Senator Steven Bieda (D-25) introduced Senate Bill 61 late January 2015 to enable online voter registration in Michigan. The bill was referred to the committee on Elections and Government Reform on Jan. 29, 2015 but has yet to be heard in that committee. Following suit, State Representative Sarah Roberts (D-24) introduced House Bill 4288 early in March 2015. This bill mirrored the exact same piece of legislation with the exception of dates for implementation. This bill was referred to the Committee on Elections on March 4, 2015 and also has not yet been heard in committee. Senate Bill 61 has eight Democratic sponsors and no Republican sponsors, while House Bill 4288 has 44 Democratic sponsors and only one Republican sponsor, Peter Lucido. Despite the lack of Republican sponsors for these two bills Governor Rick Snyder and Secretary of State Director Ruth Johnson, both Republicans, have publicly expressed their support for the implementation of online voter registration in Michigan.
The upcoming elections suggest the need to revisit the issue of voting in Michigan. Michigan is one of the few states that have failed to make significant improvements to expand voter opportunities. Administrative hurdles to registration suppress voter participation and are an unnecessary economic burden on the state. As of 2016, there are a total of 30 states plus the District of Columbia that offer online voter registration, Arizona being the first to do so in 2002. However, Michigan is not one of these states.
The Argument Against Online Voter Registration
Arguments against this reform include the high implementation cost, risk of fraud, and the possibility of excluding minorities. According to Ruth Johnson, Director of Michigan Department of State, in order to register online or to make changes to information, a voter would need to enter the last four digits of their Social Security number as well as their driver’s license number. This requirement has garnered a lot of controversy from people who believe that it would disenfranchise the elderly, low-income, and minority voters and has even been compared to a poll tax. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, about 3.2 million Americans do not have a state issued photo ID. Often these groups must travel long distances in order to get to the nearest office to purchase a state ID. A specific hurdle for many elderly citizens is that they were never issued a birth certificate, often due to being delivered by a mid-wife who either did not issue a birth certificate or misspelled the critical information therefore rendering the document invalid. According to a 2006 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, approximately 13 million U.S. citizens lack a birth certificate. It is impossible to receive a state issued ID without presenting your birth certificate and it is generally impossible to receive a birth certificate without some form of ID. This catch-22 in turn leaves this group of citizens out of the voting process.
The Argument for Online Voter Registration
Many supporters of online voter registration point to successful models that are present around the United States. The Pew Charitable Trusts studied the 13 states that have already implemented online voter registration. The study demonstrated that online voter registration is not only convenient for citizens who would like to either register or simply update their information, but also leads to more accurate and secure records, saves taxpayer dollars, and encourages participation. The Pew Charitable Trusts survey showed that the average cost of building and implementing an online system has been $240,000. Some states like California have claimed savings of almost $2 million since implementation. Similarly, Arizona experienced a reduction in registration costs from 83 cents per paper registration to three cents per online registration. Not only does this create huge labor cost savings, but it also saves a lot of time since officials do not have to decipher voters’ handwriting. Additionally, multilingual services and extensive accessibility features for people with disabilities can be easily offered.
Likewise, although many people argue that the risk of fraud would increase if we implement online registration, the Pew Charitable Trusts study found that there have been no security breaches known to date within the states that currently allow online voter registration. The careful use of “captcha” boxes, multi-screen systems, and data encryption combined with the registrant’s unique ID number are believed to be more effective in minimizing voter fraud than the current paper system. For example, according to a database created by News21 since 2000 Arizona has experienced seven accounts of voter fraud, while Michigan has experienced 17 accounts.
Other similar types of legislation that are being considered in Michigan currently relate to no-reason absentee voting, the ability to opt-in to pre-register to vote upon turning 16, and automatic registration when receiving a driver license or identification card with the choice to opt-out. As a whole, these bills boast a large number of Democratic sponsors and only one Republican sponsor. Just as the online voter registration bills were stalled, these also have been stalled in committees since early 2015. With the upcoming presidential election I believe that the issue of online voter registration will only continue to gather attention in Michigan. If these pieces of legislation are reconsidered and parties can gain a consensus on only requiring a Social Security number to register online then more actors may approve of the reform.
Belec, Hannah Moulton. “Why Voter-ID Laws are bad for Women, the Elderly, and Everyone.” The American Association of University Women. 4 Sept. 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Byrum, Barb. "Michigan Legislature Should Act on Online Registration, No-reason Absentee Voting." MLive.com. 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. .
“Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of American’s Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification.” Brennan Center for Justice. Voting Rights and Elections Series. Nov. 2006. Web. 15 March 2016.
.“Election Fraud in America.” News21. Election Fraud Database. 12 Aug. 2012. Web. 15 March 2016.
.Oosting, Johnathan. "Secretary of State Ruth Johnson: Michigan Ready for Online Registration, No-reason Absentee Voting." MLive.com. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2016. .
"Snyder to Push for Online Vote Registration, No-reason Absentee Voting | The Detroit News | Verified Voting." The Voting News. Verified Voting Foundation, 17 Jan. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.
.The Pew Charitable Trusts. “Understanding Online Voter Registration.” Election Initiatives. Jan. 2014. Web. Feb. 2016.
Weiser, Wendy R. Norden, Lawrence. “Voting Law Changes in 2012.” Brennan Center for Justice. 3 Oct. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.