California Finally Approves Online Voter Registration (Sadly, It’s Just 1 Of 11 States To Have Done So)

So, this piece of news managed to sneak under the radar, but it’s worth recognizing as a victory for the Internet and for the state of California. Digital technology has been slow to come to some offline institutions, a glaring (and sad) example being the very democratic process of registering to vote (and then actually voting) in local, state, and federal elections. A few weeks ago, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that (once again) legalizes online voter registration in the state of California.

As TheVotingNews points out, while California does in fact have a voter registration database, until the passage of 3B 397, residents could not fully register to vote online. Instead, voters could go through the process of filling out registration forms, but instead of hitting “approve” or “send” and closing the loop, Californians had to then print out the completed form and send it to their local county election office for approval.

Considering California is responsible for the development of a wide array of mind-blowing technology, including that which allows disabled and paralyzed people to walk again, it’s kind of embarrassing that our state can’t even offer a workable way to register people to vote online.

Until now, that is.

Lawmakers had been waiting for the state’s “federally compliant statewide voter registration database to come online”, TheVotingNews said, but apparently San Francisco Senator Leland Yee was tired of twiddling his thumbs and authored the new online voter registration bill, which was then signed into law by Jerry Brown.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 39 percent of the Californians that were eligible in 2010 did not register to vote. That’s nearly 9 million people. What’s more, only eleven states in the U.S. (Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) currently (or will soon) offer online voter registration — oh, and North Carolina is considering implementing online registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Though 34 states do offer residents the opportunity to access voter registration online, it is appalling how few states have implemented statewide voter registration databases, let alone allow people to take advantage of online registration or voting.

In a statement about the new legislation, State Senator Lee seemed to agree: “In the 21st century, especially here in California, it is long overdue to have online voter registration. SB 397 will not only help protect the integrity of the vote, but will allow many more individuals the opportunity to register and participate in our democracy”. Nearly 9 million people, in fact.

Under the new law, California residents will now register to vote online, at which point the county elections office will use the voter’s signature from the DMV to verify authenticity. Then, when residents actually go to vote, their signatures will be matched against those records at the polls.

As to the timeline for the implementation, well, Yee and other representatives said that they hope to have the new system live in time for the 2012 presidential elections. If they don’t, I encourage all Californians (and Americans, for that matter) to write strongly-worded letters to their local politicians.

Now, of course, the question becomes: When do we actually get to vote online? 2020?

Excerpt image from PopArtUK