General Assembly approves online voter registration

General Assembly approves online voter registration

PROVIDENCE – Both chambers of the General Assembly on Tuesday gave their final approval to legislation sponsored by Sen. Gayle Goldin and Rep. Aaron Regunberg to allow Rhode Islanders to register to vote or update their voter information online. The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk.

The legislation, which the two Providence legislators introduced in conjunction with Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, authorizes the secretary of state to establish a web portal to allow voters to register or update their existing registration information online. The bill would allow the Department of State to cross-reference application information with information in the databases of other state, municipal or quasi-public agencies to verify the information submitted by applicants.

The sponsors said online voter registration is a convenience that citizens should be able to expect in an age when so much of their daily business can be conducted online.

“It’s time to bring voter registration into the 21st century. Making voter registration available online means it’s conveniently accessible to Rhode Islanders 24 hours a day, so no matter how busy they may be or what kind of hours they work, they have the opportunity to be a registered voter," said Regunberg, of House District 4. "Electronic registration will encourage more Rhode Islanders, especially younger people, to register to vote by eliminating the necessity of having to get to City Hall during business hours, and will help get more people involved in the democratic process."

Electronic registration can also help eliminate errors and confusion, while saving the state money, they said.

“This legislation is a way to make government work more efficiently for citizens,” said Goldin, of Senate District 3. “Allowing people to type in their own information means no one has to transcribe handwritten applications, eliminating an opportunity for errors as well as a time-consuming task for public employees. At least one study has shown that the reduction in paperwork has saved the public money. And allowing voters the ability to check and update their registration records online can help eliminate hassles that might otherwise result in problems at the polls for them.”

Gorbea thanked lawmakers for passage of the bill.

“This legislation will make it easier for citizens to register to vote and update their voter information, and it will improve the accuracy and integrity of Rhode Island’s voter rolls," she said. "I thank House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed along with bill sponsors Sen. Gayle Goldin, Rep. Aaron Regunberg, and the full House and Senate for working to modernize our elections and engage more Rhode Islanders in our electoral process.”

The bill also connects Rhode Island to a multi-state partnership to share electronic registration information, which allows the Department of State to clean up voter rolls and maintain the integrity of the state’s elections.

In January 2014, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommended that all states implement online voter registration, in part because it “increases the accuracy and currency of the voter rolls, thereby reducing delays and congestion at the polling place.” Thirty-one states plus the District of Columbia currently offer online registration, and another three states have passed legislation to create online voter registration systems, but have not yet implemented them. Arizona was the first state to institute online voting in 2002, and now 70 percent of its registration occurs online. According to one study, it costs Arizona 83 cents to process each manual registration form, but only three cents for each online registration.