Online Voter Registration System Launching Amid Concerns

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DES MOINES, Iowa – Signing up to vote in Iowa will now be just be a few clicks away, as the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office prepares launches a new online voter registration system.

The system is a first for Iowa, and a project Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office has been working on for most of 2015. The system utilizes the Department of Transportation’s database to register any Iowan with a state driver’s license or DOT-issued I.D. card as a voter, completely replacing the paper form. Since its activation no January 1, the office reports 28 people have already registered to vote online. But some advocacy groups in the state are crying foul.

“We applaud the Secretary of State’s Office for pursuing online voter registration,” said Veronica Fowler with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. “The problem is that the system excludes 146,000 people, who don’t have access.”

Those people “without access” Fowler is referring to are the approximately 145,600 Iowans the DOT estimates who don’t have a driver’s license or state-issued I.D. Groups like the ACLU say if people don’t need an I.D. to register in person, why would they need one to do so online?

“A lot of these people are elderly and they don’t drive. Or maybe they are impoverished and don’t own a car. Or they have a handicap that doesn’t allow them to drive,” Fowler said. “And those are people that need access to online voter registration, perhaps as much, or even more, than any other population.”

Joe Enriquez Henry with the League of United Latin American Citizens agrees with the ACLU’s stance.

“Because we have many people here coming from other countries who are becoming citizens, who then want to register to vote. So they’re not going to have these additional requirements,” he said.

LULAC is in the middle of campaign hoping to turn out 10,000 Iowa Latinos on caucus night, and even more for the general election in November. For that reason, he says his group has a vested interest in seeing this system improved.

“It brings up questions about why is it being made more difficult? It’s another form of suppressing the vote,” he said. “If we don’t have the same access online as people do when they walk into the office.”

A legislative solution crafted in the Senate in 2015 would have created a parallel path for citizens without a driver’s license or I.D. to register to vote online as well. However, that bill stalled in the House. Group’s like the ACLU and LULAC say they’re hoping to see that bill pass in the 2016 legislative session, well ahead of the November elections.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate offered the following statement regarding the new online voter registration system to Channel 13 Sunday afternoon:

“The online system that launched January 1, 2016, is a smart, effective service that promotes voter registration and electoral participation. I want all eligible citizens to participate in the electoral process. Iowans already had numerous ways to register to vote: by mail; at drivers’ license stations and other government agencies; through voter registration drives, and at the polls on Election Day. Not every option is relevant to every Iowan, but together, the range of options covers all Iowans. Adding online voter registration does not take away any option and does not prevent any eligible Iowan from registering. It does increase the range of options and makes it easier for many people.”

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