The Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections held an informational hearing last week about online voter registration. While many states have passed legislation allowing their citizens to register to vote online, Wisconsin has yet to do so. Hopefully in the near future, the Wisconsin Legislature will enact such legislation, as it will make it easier for Wisconsin citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote.
Wisconsin is considered one of the best states in the nation when it comes to administering elections. According to a report by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Wisconsin ranked third in the nation for administering the 2012 presidential election, and just four years earlier, Wisconsin was ranked second in the nation administering the 2008 presidential election. Even so, Wisconsin has room for improvement. According to the Sheboygan Press, “the rate of non-voting due to disabilities or illness increased between 2012 and 2008 [and] wait times stretched from 7.9 minutes in 2008 to 8.2 minutes in 2012.” Additionally, Wisconsin lost points in the most recent report because Wisconsin does not allow its citizens to register to vote online.
In 2002, Arizona became the first state to permit its citizens to register to vote online. Now, 18 states allow their citizens to register to vote online. Thus, last week experts from around the country testified before the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections about online voter registration. Tammy Patrick, an election official in Maricopa County, Arizona, said, “It’s also important to note in the 12 years that we have had our system, we have had zero registration frauds through the online system.” In addition, Benjamin Ginsberg, a GOP attorney and lobbyist who co-chaired the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, told the committee, “Overall, an online system is simply going to be more accurate because there’s less room for error.”
It seems like many states and their election officials support online voter registration once the system is been implemented. Election officials in Wisconsin seem ready to embrace the trend of online voter registration. As Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, said, “Legislation that enables online voter registration would make a tremendous leap forward in the administration of elections in Wisconsin. The basic voter registration data will be more accurate if it is entered online by the voter. Online registration eliminates data entry errors resulting from difficult-to-decipher paper forms.”
Not only would an online voter registration system in Wisconsin help improve accuracy in voter registration data, but it would also save the state money. Wisconsin would save more than $1 million over the next decade if it instituted an online voter registration system.
The question remains: Why hasn’t the Legislature enacted legislation that makes it easier for citizens to register to vote and saves the state money? The answer is that the online voter registration legislation was introduced and then attached to a campaign finance bill by Republicans, leading to the bill’s fate in legislative limbo. In other words, Republicans in the statehouse seem to only want to permit online voter registration, which would further citizens’ fundamental right to vote, if they can also enact legislation that would weaken the right of citizens to vote. This legislation includes ending early weekend voting, weakening campaign finance disclosure requirements and voter identification laws.
Cicero once said, “Freedom is participation in power.” Republican efforts in the statehouse over the past few years demonstrate their infatuation with restricting people’s participation in the political process, whether it is through voter identification laws or laws ending early weekend voting. It is time for the Republicans in the state Legislature to embrace Cicero’s idea of freedom by ensuring that online voter registration becomes a reality in the next legislative session.
Aaron Loudenslager ([email protected]) is a second-year law student.