Yee introduces online voter registration bill

Californians would be able to register online to vote, under a bill introduced today by state Sen. Leland Yee.

Some states already offer online registration but California has put it off, awaiting implementation of a “VoteCal” statewide online database system now delayed at least until 2015. Yee’s bill instead would allow online registration through county registrars’ offices.

Under his SB 397, citizens would input their voter information online and the county elections office would use the voter’s signature from the Department of Motor Vehicles to verify authenticity. That signature would have to match the voter’s signature at the polling place; currently, polling place signatures only need to match the paper registration signature, which Yee says potentially allows for greater occurrences of fraud. (Ed. note: Steve Weir, quoted below, correctly noted there’s no checking of signatures at the voting precincts against registration signatures unless there is an allegation of a problem with a voter; Yee’s office said it had misunderstood the process, but still believes matching registration signatures to DMV signatures will stymie fraud.)

“In the 21st century, especially here in California, it is long overdue to have online voter registration,” Yee, D-San Francisco, said in his news release. “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.”

Yee says county elections officers believe this would save money and eliminate administrative errors from mistyping the data entry from a paper registration; after Arizona implemented online voter registration, he said, some counties saw their costs decrease from 83 cents per registration to 3 cents per registration.

If Yee’s bill becomes law, it would let counties start using online voter registration for the 2012 Presidential Primary and General Election. Paper registration would still be available.

Contra Costa County Voter Registrar Steve Weir agrees the bill would help with data entry error avoidance. “We make mistakes in data entry and sometimes, people’s handwriting is difficult. In addition, with the 15 day close of registration, we can still be receiving legitimate registrations 5 days before an election and for major elections, it is very difficult to get all registrations into our system so that the voters name appears on the roster (or supplemental roster).”

“I like the idea that people register themselves and don’t depend upon “drives” for registration and for signature gatherers as these folks bend the rules,” Weir continued. “We have a drive that did not pay the return postage. The SOS sent them to us this month even though the registrants actually registered in time for the November Gubernatorial General Election.”

But Weir said the DMV signature is key. People going to DMV for the first time must produce an identifying document – a birth certificate or some naturalization documentation, for example – whereas signatures on standard voter registration cards aren’t checked against citizenship/identifying documents.

“I am not convinced that the DMV is able (legally, we’re told that a private vendor owns those signatures) to physically attach those signatures to on line registrations,” Weir said. “So, in concept, we like this option, although we want to see the actual language of the bill. Our Association will have a Legislative meeting on March 4 where we’ll go over the details of the bill.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Steve Weir

    I was cool on this concept until I realized that using the voter’s signature, captured in person at DMV, and having that person produce a government issued document showing identity and citizenship is a much more secure (and anti fraud) way to deal with voter registration.

    Having said that, the occurrence of fraud voter registration usually involves someone trying to scam the system for a bounty (and not necessarily trying to register a fictitious person for the purpose of voting.)