July 18, 2012

Civic Duty Goes Modern With Facebook Voter Registration

John Neumann for - Your Universe Online

While some states are tightening restrictions on voting eligibility, Washington state opens its voter registrations with the ability to sign up via a Facebook app, writes Cyrus Farivar for Ars Technica. This week, a new Facebook app created by Redmond Washington-based Microsoft will provide a new interface to let voters access the MyVote system.

The internet is not exactly new, except maybe for government entities. It was only in 2008, that the state of Washington became just the second in the union to offer online voter registration. Today, Washington and 12 other states, including Utah, California, counties in Nevada, Connecticut, Indiana, and others offer online voter registration.

“Facebook has millions of users, and a lot of users in Washington state–half of all Facebook members log on every day,” said Shane Hamlin, the state´s co-director of elections, in a phone call with Ars Technica this week.

He explained that Washington hopes to make it as easy as possible for voters to register. Between March 2010 and March 2011, 60 percent of Washington voters who registered online were 18-34 years old. Since 2008, more than 475,000 new registrations or updated information have been processed.

“Your information is coming to us from Facebook but you can do that without leaving Facebook,” he added.

Voters will have to authorize the app to access their name and date of birth, which will be used to pre-fill each registration form. In order to finalize the process, dutiful citizens will have to manually enter their drivers license or state ID numbers.

“Our state database checks to see if you´re already registered. If you are, it will take you to MyVote service, [where] you can update registration information.” Hamlin went on to say. The agency will then conduct a final “real-time check” to verify an applicant´s identity, writes Amar Toor for the Verge.

Hamlin added that not only is online registration more efficient for voters, but it´s cheaper, too. “It saves the county $0.50 to $2 per registration and saves the state $0.25 per registration, as of 2009,” he noted.

“If this works as we expect, Facebook and Microsoft will be more than happy to work with any other state that has online registration.”

Since 2010, eleven states have passed laws requiring voters to show government-approved photo identification in order to vote with supporters claiming that it would crack down on electoral fraud, but critics say it overwhelmingly affects poor, elderly and minority voters and no cases of widespread fraud have been proven.

Six states must have the changes cleared by the Department of Justice because of past discrimination in their voting practices. So far no state has had its new law approved.