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Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2016 @ 10:00 AM
COLUMBUS — Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has a New Year’s resolution he wants to see Ohioans make: register online to vote.
And that can goal can be completed as soon as the Times Square Ball completes its New Year’s Eve descent.
“It’s another positive step in trying to improve elections in America,” said Husted. “So when it strikes midnight, raise your glass in champagne, give a toast and register to vote.”
Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 63 this past summer, which authorizes the state to implement online voter registration, and it will be live at midnight on Jan. 1 on the Ohio Secretary of State’s website.
“It eliminates another excuse for not voting,” he said. “Nobody can say it’s too hard. You don’t have to leave home to participate in Ohio democracy now.”
Ohio is now one of 38 states, plus the District of Columbia, to move toward online voter registration, but seven states — which includes Ohio until New Year’s Day — have yet to implement it.
Husted wanted to see online registration be in place for this past November’s general election, but despite the secretary’s objections the General Assembly chose to launch it on Jan. 1 — after the 2016 presidential election.
Butler County Board of Elections Deputy Director Jocelyn Bucaro sees a “fairly minimal” impact on local boards of elections.
“I don’t think the processes will change that much in what we’ve been doing the last four years with the online change of address,” she said. “It all happens at the push of the button.”
HOW IT WORKS
Though nearly a dozen states did not require legislation to authorize online voter registration, Ohio needed it because state law requires a signature on a voter registration form, said Husted. That’s where the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles enters the process.
SB 63 allows the Secretary of State to compare a person’s driver’s license or state-issued identification number maintained by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. State law needed to change to permit that communication, Husted said.
When someone goes online to register — which Husted said a link will be prominent on the Secretary of State’s homepage — they’ll fill out the form and click submit. The form will be sent from the Secretary of State to the appropriate county board of elections.
“We can complain about government, but we have one opportunity to determine who’s going to govern us from the presidency to the city council and township trustees, and we get to determine how high our property taxes will be and whether or not we should approve a fire or policy levy,” Husted said.
This is the third significant online voter information tool Husted’s office has launched since 2012. The MyOhioVote.com page launched in 2012 and the online voter toolkit launched in 2015. All of this, Husted said, makes it “so much more efficient and simpler and help build confidence in the system.”
Of all the tools, the online change of address system implemented in August 2012 has been the most successful. It’s been used by nearly 460,000 voters, which Husted said means there were that many fewer provisional ballots because people would have been registered at an old address. And accurate voter information is important, he said, because elections do come down to a single vote.
Over the past three years, 112 elections in Ohio were decided by a single vote or ended up being tied. Tied votes on issues mean the issue fails — and that happened twice in this past November’s election. A Marlboro Twp. tax levy in Delaware County and an Akron local liquor option in Summit county tied and failed.
“Democracy works but you got to participate,” Husted said.
HOW MUCH WILL IT SAVE?
Ohio’s political parties have robust voter registration efforts, and Husted believes they’ll be important in pushing online registration. Since the launch is in an odd-year election, a year where local and non-partisan city council, school board and township trustee races are decided, there won’t be a significant jump, Husted said.
But the more online voter registrations that are processed, the more money that will saved. Projections show that millions of dollars could have been saved if it was enacted when Husted took office in 2011. Depending on the lowest and highest cost savings, between $4 million and $17 million could have been saved.
While cost savings are only projections and estimates at this point, a Pew Charitable Trusts study showed that Arizona experienced an 80 cent per registration reduction when that state opened up to online voter registration. Other states have experienced a similar cost savings in processing registrations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Bucaro believes there will be cost savings down the road, but how much exactly “is hard to quantify.”
While staffing changes are not imminent, Bucaro said the real cost savings will be when less staff is needed for processing voter registration forms, “which will save us a lot of money.”
“It will certainly make processing registrations easier,” Bucaro said.
WHAT THE PARTIES HAVE TO SAY
Republicans and Democrats both appreciate the news voting tool as voter registration is a year-round initiative.
“As technology is inserted into every aspect of our lives, we look forward to expanding our voter registration reach by utilizing online voter registration,” said Brittany Warner, Ohio GOP communications director. “We never stop our push to register Republican votes and will be using the online technology when it becomes available to continue to build upon the large influx on new GOP voters from 2016.”
Warner said the GOP added 1 million new registered Republican voters in the 2016 primary.
Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirstin Alvanitakis said while this is a welcomed evolution in Ohio voting, “Unfortunately, that leaves out a lot of seniors, young people, college students and lower-income Ohioans from being able to take advantage of online voter registration.”