Online voter registration a success in Georgia

Georgia’s new online voter registration system and mobile apps have helped more than 40,700 people become new voters or update their eligibility information — exceeding the project’s initial goal ahead of Monday’s final deadline.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp launched the system March 31, just days before a national report chided the state’s flagging performance in how it conducts its elections. Now he, local officials and voters say it has gone a long way toward improving an often bureaucratic, paper-intensive process.

“It’s online, you can trace it, you can see what’s been done and be accountable,” Henry County election director Janet Shellnutt said. “It really is simpler.”

The move toward the Web took years but came none too soon. Thirteen states offered online registration in 2012, compared with just two in 2008, and the Presidential Commission on Election Administration recommends the practice.

Still, Georgia has not quit paper cold-turkey. Paper applications still make up the bulk of new voter registrations. Advocacy groups are quick to note not every eligible voter is Internet-savvy. Anecdotal evidence suggests there may even be a generational gap, including the older woman who recently bent the ear of Cobb County election director Janine Eveler.

“It will take time for some people to get used to it, but the younger generation, that’s all they know,” Eveler said, adding that her staff prefers the electronic registration forms because they don’t want to make a mistake deciphering someone’s handwriting.

Both local officials and experts said the online process is a win-win for voters and municipalities because it can help states avoid issues with rejected registrations, use of provisional ballots and nonvoting due to registration problems — all past problems in Georgia.

Anyone wanting to register online simply needs a valid Georgia driver’s license or state-issued identification card, which automatically syncs a voter’s information with his or her local registrar.

Grass-roots organizers at a registration rally last week vowed to boost their use of the online forms after state investigators alleged they found more than 30 forged paper applications by workers from a Democratic-backed registration group. “This is about registering your family members, your neighbors and your community,” said Lovette Thompson, a member of the Atlanta chapter of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “The power of the vote is one that belongs to all of us.”

It’s also a boon for the state’s political organizers and parties who have actively promoted registration links on social media. Door-to-door canvassers this year have been just as likely to whip out a smartphone to register a prospective voter as a clipboard and pen. The change comes as both Republicans and Democrats have made unprecedented turns toward data and technology as part of their get-out-the-vote campaign strategies.

“We’re no longer dealing with paper,” state GOP spokesman Ryan Mahoney said.

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