Online voter registration efforts earn SOS props from Center for Digital Government

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

(photo credit: Joe Philipson)

Hey you. Yeah you, California’s 8.2 million unregistered voters. What’s your excuse for not joining over 18 million of your fellow citizens in registering to vote? Thanks to the launch of online voter registration, it’s never been easier or more convenient to register in California. And get this, by next year the process will be even smoother.

The introduction of California’s Online Voter Registration (COVR) last year, a project overseen by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, represents a significant step forward in the quest to bring California elections into the 21st century. In fact, The Center for Digital Government recognized the SOS’s office for successfully moving the arcane system to the Interweb, demonstrating how government can leverage technology to remove barriers to the ballot box, improve efficiency and save taxpayer money.

At the Center’s Best of California awards, California Secretary of State’s online voter registration portal took home the prize for 2013’s Best Application Serving the Public. Given that the number of civic apps is multiplying faster than Gremlins at a water park, edging out the category’s stiff competition was likely no easy feat.

Now that registering to vote is just a few mouse clicks away, you can skip the trip to the post office and signup or update your registration online in between episodes of a “Breaking Bad” binge-watch.

As predicted, voters overwhelmingly embraced this added convenience. Despite launching a mere five weeks before the registration deadline for the 2012 presidential election, more than 800,000 Californians took advantage of the new system, helping set a new state record for voter registration.

The option to go paperless benefited more than papyrophobes, it made the voter registration process more accessible to a broader part of the electorate, effectively engaging low-propensity voters.

“It reached minorities, youth, lower income communities, a much more diverse crowd, which is really exciting as we think through how new technologies allow us to reach those pockets of people that are traditionally disenfranchised and left out of the political process,” said Amanda Brown, National Political Director for Rock The Vote, one of several organizations that assisted the SOS in the creation of the tool.

“Now that we have a working online voter registration system it will be relatively easy for other state agencies, including Covered California, to integrate voter registration into their interactions with the public and make voter registration much more visible and accessible to all Californians,” said Kim Alexander, President of the California Voter Foundation.

While the COVR system significantly increased voter access and participation, with the right improvements it could expand access to an even broader range of Californians. The fact is that over a third of eligible voters still aren’t registered, earning California the dubious distinction of ranking among the bottom five states in voter registration.

As technology advances and citizens’ expectations change, the system must evolve to keep pace. The good news is Bowen’s office, in collaboration with Rock the Vote and other organizations involved with the Future of California Elections, is already tinkering with the tool in an effort to roll out an even better version next spring, in time for the 2014 election.

“We commend the SOS for thinking through how to modernize the registration system to meet the needs of the emerging electorate and actually leading the effort to improve it for the next election cycle,” said Brown. “It’s significantly noteworthy in that most states spend a lot of time and energy standing up a tool and leave it as is.”

Ensuring the platform is more accessible to minority language voters and voters with disabilities is a top priority. COVR 2.0 will be available in all nine languages covered by the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and translated from legalese to plain English.

Additional platform improvements include a more user-friendly and streamlined interface and mobile-optimization, which aims to expand registration opportunities for individuals who traditionally access the internet through a mobile device. Considering that communities of color lag in computer ownership, offering a mobile-friendly site could help close the state’s Latino registration gap.

“Young California voters who registered to vote online were more likely to vote than their traditionally registered peers. Improved online voter registration is an important way to ensure voting becomes engrained in Millennial’s digital lives,” said Caroline Bruister, California Forward Program Director.

Improving and expanding the availability of the COVR system can make our democracy more robust and inclusive. Cutting the red tape around the voter registration process lengthened voter rolls and boosted participation; proof that if we make it easier for Californians to vote they will.

So you unregistered voters, what are you waiting for? Telepathic voter registration? Sorry, it isn’t on the horizon. Don’t wait, become a card-carrying member of California’s electorate today! CLICK HERE

And those of you who did register. Congratulations. Now don’t forget to cast your ballot.


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg