Sen. Leland Yee’s bill to fast track online voter registration took an initial step forward yesterday.
On a party line, 3-2 vote, the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee approved Senate Bill 397, which would allow voters to register to vote by submitting an electronic affidavit via their county’s election office website.
“Not only do we think it will result in more individuals being registered because it is easier to register online,” said Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for Yee, D-San Francisco, “it will save significant costs to taxpayers and election offices.”
Opponents, however, say it’s already easy enough to register to vote on paper and the online system could create more opportunities for voter fraud.
“There’s a lot of deep concerns about the bill,” said Mark Spannagel, chief of staff for Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who voted against SB 397. “You don’t have a signature. There is no way to verify it’s an actual person.”
The legislation would allow counties, on a voluntary basis, to implement online registration ahead of VoteCal, an oft-delayed statewide effort to computerize voter lists in a centralized database.
Last year Secretary of State Debra Bowen terminated a contract with a consultant hired to modernize California’s voting registration system, and according to Yee’s bill, VoteCal may not go into effect until 2015.
Shannan Velayas, spokeswoman for Bowen, said VoteCal is still in the procurement phase and she couldn’t provide a timeline for completion.
Eleven states offer or are in the process of offering online registration, including Arizona, Washington and Oregon, according to the bill.
SB 397 would allow voters, who have a valid California driver’s license or state ID card, to fill out their registration card online and use their driver’s license signature for voter verification.
Upon receiving an electronic affidavit, county election offices would ask the Secretary of State to obtain the electronic signature from the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Currently, voters can fill out their registration form online but must print, sign and mail it to county election offices.
Keigwin said the bill would provide more security than the current system, where elections officials check the signature at the polling place with the registration card signature.
Online registration would also cut down on clerical errors when election workers misread handwritten registration forms and save time and money on data entry, he said.
In an April 29 letter, Bowen said her office would need time and funding to upgrade its computer systems to securely provide the DMV signatures. Bowen’s office wouldn’t be ready to implement the system by Jan. 1, as the bill calls for, the letter said.
“The Secretary of State has concerns about spending millions of dollars to build a temporary infrastructure that will become obsolete as soon as VoteCal is in place,” Velayas said.
She added that Bowen supported SB 381, which became law in 2009 and allows online voter registration once VoteCal is active.
Keigwin said SB 397 doesn’t require much from the Secretary of State; most of the work will come at the local level and DMV. “We cannot afford to wait any longer,” he said.
The bill will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee in the next couple weeks, Keigwin said, and Yee hopes to have it on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk by this summer and implemented in time for the 2012 presidential primary.
“We would really like to see this in place for the presidential election,” Keigwin said.