By Alex Gonzalez
The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online. While Republicans may have a knee-jerk reaction and presume that this bill is bad for Republicans because it may encourage voter fraud, the bill passed with a vote of 21 in the Senate where Republicans have 19-11 advantage over Democrats. Moreover, there are 11 other states that already offer online registration that has created more voter turnout and higher registration among independents and Republicans.
While some Republicans in Texas may fear that, with a Voter ID law still pending in Federal Court, this will make it easier for voter fraud, this bill in fact will only allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs from Department of Public Safety (DPS) to register to vote online. In other words, even with a Voter ID law, this legislation will still apply since those registering online would have already gone through the DPS process where their Social Security number and citizenship status has already been checked.
Moreover, in States like California that passed a similar law in 2011, voter registration increased by 1 million in one years to 18.2, whereas two years before, voter registration remained stagnant at 17.2 million and 17.1 in 2008.
And while some may argue that that law will benefit Democrats in California, the reality is that 70% of that 1 million registered as other than Democrats. For example, from 2010 to 1012, Registration of voters self-identifying as Democrat in California increased only 300,000, but also the Registration for those registering as Independents increased by 300,000, and 400,000 did not declare.
So even in a liberal state like California, online voter registration is bringing in more non-Democrat voters, a bloc of voter made out of young people and Latinos who do not see Democrats as a viable Party. In California, during the five weeks leading up to the registration deadline, more than one million voters submitted online registration applications or updates. More than 60% of users were under 35.
Furthermore, if we look at other states (11) with online voter registration we can see that many RED states have passed similar legislations.
States with Online Voter Registration
Arizona — implemented in 2002; see EZ Voter Registration
California — passed in 2011 (S 397); see Secretary of State
Colorado — passed in 2009 (HB 1160); see Go Vote Colorado
Connecticut — passed in 2012 (H5024); not implemented yet
Georgia — passed in 2012 (SB 92); not implemented yet
Hawaii — passed in 2012 (HB 1755); not implemented yet
Indiana — passed in 2009 (HB 1346); see IndianaVoters.gov
Kansas — implemented in 2009; see Vote Kansas
Louisiana — passed in 2009 (HB 520); see Geaux Vote
Maryland — passed in 2011 (HB 740); see Maryland State Board of Elections
Nevada — implemented in 2012; see Online Voter Registration
New Mexico — passed legislation in 2013 allowing voters to update existing records electronically (HB 497); not implemented yet
Oregon — passed in 2009 (HB 2386); see OreStar
South Carolina–passed in 2012 (HB 4945); see South Carolina Votes
Utah — passed in 2009 (SB 25); see Office of the Lt. Governor
Virginia — passed in 2013 (HB 2341); not implemented yet
Washington — passed in 2007 (HB 1528); see Online Voter Registration
Thus, online voter registration is not a liberal scheme but rather a civic approach for both Red or Blue states to increase voter turnout.
How is this good for Texas? Texas ranks 48th in voter turnout with only 50.1% of registered voters. But, 4 states (Utah, Colorado, Virginia, and Maryland) that offer online Registration are among those states in the top-10 with high voter turnout. In addition, there are economic incentives for states to do this. According to the America Goes To The Polls 2012(3) report:
Arizona pioneered online registration in 2002 and today over 70% of the state’s voter registrations are performed online. In addition to making registration easier for voters, online registration allows Arizona to save money by eliminating data entry and has increased the accuracy of its voter rolls. In 2010, the costs associated with a paper registration were 83 cents while online registration was just 3 cents.
Moreover, in Texas, low voter turnout and registration is jeopardizing the ability for the Republican Party to keep the majority in the near future because the state gets only 50.1 % of voter turnout, which has remained the same for the last 10 years; and voter registration has also remained stagnant at 13 million for the last ten years while the Voter Age Population (VAP) has increased by 40% to 18.5 million during the same period.
So while Texas is still a Republican state, the turnout among Republicans has, for presidential elections, remained at 4.5 million since 2004, Whereas the Democrat turnout is still at 3.5 million. But this could change if Republicans do not reach out to Latinos in the coming years since it is mathematically impossible that Republican can keep the majority in the state with only 4.5 million voter when the VAP increases to 20 million in the next four years, especially in large Metro areas of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and South Texas where the VAP of Latino and transplants from other states is booming.
With online registration, Texas Republicans can gain the needed replenishment voters to increase its stagnant based of 4.5 million from the 18.5 million of VAP in the state. Moreover, the bill may reduce to cost of registration to 3 cents as it did in Arizona. It also a good idea since this law guarantees that those registering online had already been cleared by DPS, and therefore, protecting the principles of the Voter ID law. Consequently, an online voter registration law has the potential to improve the dismal voter turnout in Texas; as it has been the case in conservative states like Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Nevada, South Carolina, Virginia, and Utah that already passed similar legislation allowing online voter Registration and rank better than Texas in turnout.
Alex Gonzalez is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote! He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics, from San Francisco State University.