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Research Report

Modernizing Ohio’s System for Registering Voters: Automatic & Online Registration

Published: November 5, 2009

Experts, election officials, and advocates agree: Ohio’s voter registration system is in serious need of reform. Although Ohio has recently made significant improvements to the technology of voter registration-launching a statewide voter registration database before the 2008 elections-the system as a whole has not reaped the full benefits of that advance. Instead, Ohio still relies in significant part on outmoded and costly procedures designed for a pre-computer age. The result is a voter registration system rife with inefficiencies, which imposes serious burdens on election administrators and voters alike. What is more, each year these inefficiencies rack up costs the state can ill afford.

Fortunately, Ohio is now in a position to leverage its recent technological advances and further modernize its registration system. Building on the tools that are already in place, Ohio can significantly improve the voter registration system and save money by implementing programs of automatic and online voter registration.
Under automatic registration, state election officials would use reliable information in other government lists to automatically register eligible citizens who do not decline registration. Under online registration, eligible citizens would be able to check their registration records and submit new registration information, updates, or corrections securely and conveniently. Both programs would dramatically reduce Ohio’s problems with voter registration, improve the completeness and accuracy of its voter rolls, and lead to substantial cost savings. And under both programs, Ohio election officials would retain their authority to determine voter eligibility and ensure accurate voter rolls.

As described below, both automatic and online registration are feasible and cost-effective. Other states and government agencies have successfully deployed these reforms and reaped substantial benefits. Their experience demonstrates that these reforms will make voter registration simpler and more accessible for voters, less burdensome for election officials, less susceptible to fraud, and less costly for taxpayers. For these reasons, stakeholders from across the political spectrum support them. We urge the legislature to adopt these reforms as part of its effort to improve and modernize Ohio’s registration system.