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California launches online voter registration

California secretary of state says she hopes the new online voter registration system will allow more people to participate in the Nov. 6 election.

September 20, 2012|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • Californians now have the choice of filling out a voter registration card, like the one displayed by Secretary of State Debra Bowen, or using an online registration system.
Californians now have the choice of filling out a voter registration card,… (Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo )

SACRAMENTO — Californians can register to vote with the click of a mouse in a new online system launched Wednesday.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said she hopes making the process easier will mean more participation in the Nov. 6 election. Some 6.5 million Californians who are eligible to vote are not registered, she said.

"Today, the Internet replaces the mailbox for thousands of Californians wishing to register to vote," Bowen said at a Sacramento news conference.

The new system could shave a week or more from the paper process, according to Dean Logan, the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder. Until now, every would-be voter had to fill out an application, sign it in paper form and mail or deliver it to elections officials before being added to the voter rolls.

The online system will search the Department of Motor Vehicles database for the applicant's driver's license and other identifying information and match it to the electronic form. The potential voters can authorize elections officials to use an electronic image of their DMV signature to complete the application.

County elections officials would still need to verify the information, though, and those without driver's licenses or state identification cards must still register on paper.

Bowen said 9,596 people filed applications online in the first 18 hours of the system's operations Wednesday. "I think it's going to be huge," she said.

The deadline for registering to vote in November is Oct. 22.

With more than a quarter of eligible Californians unregistered, "we have one of the lowest rates of registration in the country," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. "We're hoping that this new system will encourage more young people to get registered. This is going to make the process more accessible to more people."

Logan said the system would be a "game changer" for the 3 million L.A. County residents who could vote if they registered.

But the new system is not without its risks, said Alexander, including the possibility — common to many computer systems — that someone might hack it.

Bowen said the new system relies on the same tough security measures already in place for those who register to vote on paper.

Of the 12 other states that have online registration, three have had systems crashes in the last year when a flood of people tried to use them just before the deadlines, Alexander said.

Bowen said she is confident California's system, which has been extensively tested, will handle the capacity. Other computer systems Bowen oversees have been plagued by crashes and other failures.

Republican lawmakers voted unanimously to oppose the new system, saying they are holding out for a long-promised database to contain all of the state's voter information, which they believe would be more secure.

"They haven't gotten all the kinks out of it," said Assemblyman Dan Logue (R-Linda), vice chairman of the Assembly Elections Committee. He said he thought the system was not secure enough "to make sure we don't have a wave of fraud."

The system is available through the secretary of state's website: https://rtv.sos.ca.gov/elections/register-to-vote.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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