Online voter registration could increase accessibility, cut cost for Texas, Travis County

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Photo Credit: Sue Dinh | Daily Texan Staff

Seven bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature to implement electronic voter registration, which would allow citizens to register to vote online instead of by mail. 

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said at least 38 states already have online voter registration, and Texas should too. 

“Online voter registration is a bipartisan, common sense way to make it easier for eligible voters to participate in our democracy and to ensure the accuracy of our voter rolls,” Watson said in a statement. “Contrary to some of the rhetoric we hear, we can and should do both of these things.” 

Watson filed Senate Bill 734, one of the seven bills, which would require the Texas secretary of state to implement online voter registration.

In late January, the Office of the Secretary of State’s office identified 95,000 registered voters in Texas who the office said may not be legal citizens of the United States but instead noncitizen, legal residents who are therefore not eligible to vote. The office found that 58,000 of those people voted since 1996. 

Bruce Elfant, Travis County voter registrar, said online voter registration would give the state a cleaner database to verify the citizenship of voter
registration applicants. 

“We’re dealing with paper applications and occasionally people check the wrong boxes,” Elfant said. “If you’re registering to vote online, and you accidentally check that you’re not a citizen, you won’t be able to complete the transaction. With a paper application, they can be incomplete or wrong and they go through.”

Elfant said in the dozens of states that have online voter registration, such as Arizona, it has proven to be cheaper, more accurate and secure.

“70 percent of (Arizona) citizens (reported they would be interested in registering) to vote online, and they cut their cost from 83 cents a card to 3 cents a card,” Elfant said. “Pew Research Center found that for the people who register electronically, their data was 5 times more accurate.” 

Online registration will also save Travis County labor costs, Elfant said. 

“On the voter registration deadline before the November election … we received 40,000 paper applications, and they had to be sorted, interpreted for handwriting and transcribed within ten days,” Elfant said. 

This is the third session in which legislators are pushing for electronic voter registration. The initiative has lacked bipartisan support in the past because Republicans were worried it would give Democrats an advantage or lead to hacking, said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir.

“I think the Republicans finally figured out that it is good for everybody,” DeBeauvoir said. “Electronic registration is one of the ways we can update our files more quickly and more accurately. They need to quit being paranoid about it.” 

Elfant said online voter registration would be just as safe as any other action done on the secretary of state’s website.

“If we’re worried about computer hacking, we really need to take down texas.gov, because you’re transacting business that involves sensitive information and money, and it’s behind the same firewall,” Elfant said. “So if we don’t think voter registration will be secure, then we can’t have confidence with any online transaction with the state of Texas.” 

Maya Patel, vice president of TX Votes, said online registration would increase accessibility, especially for students. 

“We’re all about making voting more accessible,” said chemistry junior Patel. “Students really like doing stuff from their phones, and it’s a lot easier to submit a form online.”