Online Voter Registration From a Security Perspective

Defend the Vote –

On Saturday, July 27th, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn signed House Bill 2418 into law. This complicated bill prints out to be over 122 pages long and has many components to it—especially after our Senators tossed in a bunch of other items that weren’t in the original bill—but one of the statutes that concern us is their approach to online voter registration. Illinois will soon have three ways for citizens to register to vote: mailing in an application, registering in person at the county clerk’s office, or by filling out an online form. This new addition to the voter registration process begs the question, how does online voter registration impact election security in Illinois?

 

Answering that question requires a bit of a history lesson; Illinois is the eighteenth state to adopt online voter registration. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), Arizona was the first state to authorize legislation for online voter registration in 2002, and they were followed in 2007 by Washington. On April 2nd, 2013, NCSL reported there were online voter registration bills pending in 15 states. Of those fifteen, the proposed bills have failed in four states and have been passed or enacted by six states, including Illinois.

 

Ken Menzel, the Deputy Counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, reported that for the most part, people from both parties have been satisfied with the security surrounding online voter registration. He also told Sharon Meroni, Executive Director of Defend the Vote, that it costs Illinois $0.83 when citizens register to vote in person or through mailed in applications, but will only cost $0.03 when they register online.

But is it safe from voter fraud? In order to register to vote online in Illinois, you are required to have a state ID or a driver’s license. This is a unique requirement; when registering to vote in person or through mailed in applications, you must provide some form of ID but it does not need to be state-issued. Furthermore, nobody is authorized to check if you’re a citizen through in person or mailed in applications. Requiring a driver’s license or state ID to register to vote is a safer security measure because in order to obtain a driver’s license or state ID you must provide several documents that prove you are who you say you are. Furthermore, your signature, citizenship, and residency must be verifiable.

According to cyberdriveillinois.com, you must provide verifiable documents with the following items before you are given an Illinois-issued driver’s license or state ID: your written signature, your date of birth and citizenship, your social security number, and proof of residency. Some of the documents that are considered verifiable by the state are a cancelled check, your birth certificate, your social security card, and a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. Interestingly, a college or university ID card is listed as an unacceptable document.

Non-citizens who apply for a driver’s license or state ID in Illinois will not have access to online voter registration.  Their ID cards and drivers licenses identify that they are non-citizens which theoretically will flag any attempt to register using them.

Effectively, once online voter registration goes into effect, it will be the most secure way to be registered in Illinois.

A concern we hear a lot at Defend the Vote is that some misguided college kids are voting twice; in-person at their college district and again through absentee ballots sent to their home district. We have not verified the extent that this actually happens.  However, it is noteworthy that online voter registration makes that type of voter fraud more difficult thanks to organizations like The Kansas Group and ERIC, two separate groups that each collect and share voter registration information between participating states. The various states buy into one group or the other. These two groups do not share information with each other and each group has between 12-15 member states.

This means that if a college student in Illinois wishes to register to vote online, they will first have to verify their citizenship by getting the state-issued ID or driver’s license required for online voter registration and relinquish their driver’s license from their home state.

Although this sharing of information makes it more difficult for an individual to be registered to vote in two or more states, it is far from a national voter registration database. Historically, people have been against such a database being formed because they’re worried about being tracked by the federal government; a concern Defend the Vote shared before we learned that the NSA is tracking much more than our voting records.

As for the new law signed by Quinn, Defend the Vote believes online voter registration, with the security measures that the new registrations must present a verified state-issued ID card or Illinois driver’s license, increases the security of the voter registration database. We will investigate other aspects of the new law and write more about our findings.

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