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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Senate unanimously backs online voter registration

Legislation to start online voter registration in Idaho has passed the Senate on a unanimous vote, 34-0. It wouldn’t start until after next fall’s general election. The bill estimates a state cost of about $258,000 in one-time development costs, but Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said over time the move should save the state money.

A study in Arizona found that online registration cost the state 3 cents per voter, McKenzie said, while registering on paper costs about 83 cents per voter. “So over time it does result in cost savings,” he said. “But for the most part, it really just makes it easier for citizens to register to vote. That’s what states have seen that have implemented, so it’s a good-government bill.”

In an earlier committee hearing, Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane told the State Affairs Committee, “As far as clerks go, this is long overdue, in terms of the time and the workload that we handle. … It’s good policy in that it makes voting more accessible to our voting public.”

McGrane said in 1980, 90 percent of Idaho’s voting-age population was registered to vote; today’ that’s dropped to 70 percent. “In addition to a decline in participation, we’re actually seeing a decline in voter registration as well,” he said.

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, who is co-sponsoring the bill with McKenzie, House State Affairs Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona; Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; and Rep. John McCrostie, D-Boise, told the committee that 30 states already offer online voter registration. “Some of the benefits for us are greater accuracy,” Denney said. “The voter actually enters the information online, rather than writing it out on a paper registration form that has to be sent to the county and the county has to actually input that information into the voter registration system – there’s much more chance for human error in the paper system. … So we think there will be greater accuracy.”

Verification of identity would include comparing voters’ signatures with those on file with the Idaho Transportation Department for their driver’s licenses or ID cards. “While the verification is not instantaneous, it is a whole lot quicker than what we’re able to do now,” Denney said. The change may eventually allow Idaho to move up the cutoff for voter registration before elections from the current cutoff of 24 days before the election. “We’ll see how close we can move that to Election Day,” he said.

McKenzie told the Senate, “Overall, I think it reflects a good policy. States are going this way. People are very familiar with computers. We allow them to do their driver’s licenses and a lot of different government fees and transactions through the internet. This is just another way to do that. … States have found that there hasn’t been any problems with security, in fact they’ve found things have been more secure when they’ve done this.”

The bill, SB 1297a, has been amended twice in the Senate; McKenzie said an additional technical correction still is needed, and he’ll ask the House to make that one. The measure now moves to the House side.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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