What do the states of Texas, New Hampshire and Montana have in common? Not much, but they all share one distinction: They’re among the last 12 states in the nation that have not taken action to provide online voter registration. Of these holdouts, Texas is by far the biggest in area and population, meaning we’re the ones who most need the upgrade.
“To be registered to vote you have to have a registrar physically come and register you, and there are so many areas and communities where there aren’t registrars tabling,” Samantha Farmer, a volunteer deputy registrar and urban studies and Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies sophomore, said. An online system would broaden access to voter registration, especially in underserved rural and minority communities, which tend to overlap in west Texas and in the Rio Grande Valley, areas with relatively small populations that are disproportionately Hispanic. Online voter registration could be critical in reaching those communities.
Moreover, online voter registration could make social media a more effective tool in getting people registered. If you live in a state without the service, your best chances to get registered will be in public places — registration cards stocked in public schools and libraries, volunteers that stop you in the street — and you’re most likely going to be busy when you get these chances. But if you live in a state with the service, getting registered could be as simple as following a link on your Twitter or Facebook feed. Campaigns like the National Voter Registration Day, which takes place today, make use of social media, and they’re undoubtedly more effective in states that have taken voter registration online.
Going online won’t just make voter registration easier in Texas — it’ll make it cheaper, too. When Arizona brought voter registration online, the cost was reduced from 83 cents for paper registrations to 3 cents for online registrations. Maricopa County alone saved more than $300,000 in 2008. And despite 31 states plus the District of Columbia having adopted the service as of last June, “no fraud or security breaches are known to date,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Despite all of these benefits, Texas is on track to be the last state in the nation without online voter registration. New York, California, Florida and Illinois — all states with comparable population — have adopted it. So has Alaska, the only state that’s bigger than us by area. Even Oklahoma passed a bill last year to implement the service in the near future, and if Texas is losing to Oklahoma in the race online (or anything, really), it’s time for our state to get it together. Online voter registration should be a priority in next year’s legislative session.
Groves is a government sophomore from Dallas. Follow him on Twitter @samgroves.