The county’s chief elections official supports moves toward statewide online voter registration, which she says could increase turnout and make the process of conducting elections smoother.
Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald made the observations after The Tribune asked her about a bill introduced last week by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.
Yee’s bill, SB 397, would allow citizens to register on their county’s election office website. Should it pass, it could be in place for the June 2012 primary elections. Paper registration would still be available.
State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, said he has not yet examined the bill, but he said he is concerned about voter fraud.
“Given the critical nature of anti-fraud measures, we are looking forward to hearing from the bill’s proponents about balancing enhanced registration ease with anti-fraud protections,” his office said in response to an inquiry from The Tribune.
Rodewald said she “would like to see it (online registration) done on a statewide level so that there is consistency between counties.” That more comprehensive approach, however, “may be a while in coming,” she said.
The county-by-county approach — should San Luis Obispo County adopt it — could help in registering voters, she said, “especially when we get inundated with registrations close to the deadline of 15 days before an election.”
In the last 15 days of the registration period for the November 2008 election, Rodewald wrote in an e-mail, her office processed more than 8,600 registrations “at a time when we have all the other election-related activities, like poll worker training and vote-by-mail ballot processing.”
Yee’s bill “also gives our voters one more tool to make sure they can participate in elections,” Rodewald wrote.
She said she had some misgivings, however, not least of which is the potential cost to each county of putting the new system in place.
“In these budget times, the cost of development and the cost savings potentials would have to come into consideration before the county would move forward with the implementation,” she wrote.
She added that one provision of Yee’s bill could confuse voters. Under his proposal, the signature of an individual online would have to match the signature on his or her driver’s license.
Yee included the signature-matching component in his bill as a way to avoid voter fraud.
“Currently,” he wrote in a news release, “signatures at the polling place only need to match the paper registration signature, which potentially allows for greater occurrences of fraud.”
In introducing his legislation, Yee said that several other states offer online registration.
California has lagged behind, he wrote, awaiting implementation of a statewide online database system known as VoteCal, which has been delayed until at least 2015.
Yee said online registration would save time and money on data entry.
“In fact,” he wrote, “after Arizona implemented online voter registration, some counties saw their costs decrease from 83 cents per registration to 3 cents per registration.”
Common Cause, a reform group, also supports Yee’s legislation.
“We’re thrilled that online voter registration could be possible for the 2012 election cycle,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause.
“With the passage of (this) bill, we can finally move California’s voter registration system into the 21st century,” she said.