Last year Travis County Tax Assessor Bruce Elfant campaigned on making county government more transparent, user-friendly, and efficient. He has also set an ambitious goal of increasing voter registration to over 90% by the 2016 Presidential election – that means registering 200,000 voters in just 3 1/2 years. He thinks all this can be accomplished with the help of online voter registration.
Currently 15 states have online voter registration and now with the Texas legislature in session Elfant is working with stakeholders and legislators to craft a bill similar to that of Arizona. He said Austin Representative Mark Strama is taking the lead in the House (HB 313) and this week they met with DPS and Secretary of State officials to workout the practical and technical details, but that so far everyone seemed to be on board. Elfant said the new law would increase accuracy and efficiency, because similar to making secure online purchases, you would not be able to submit your information unless it was completely filled out.
“By registering voters online Arizona has increased the accuracy of their rolls, and reduced the cost of registration from 83 cents with paper cards to 3 cents online. It’s a lot more automated and efficient, plus you are going to be a lot more accurate at filling out your own information than we are. Many times we have trouble deciphering people’s handwriting and it inevitably causes more mistakes, especially near the deadline.”
Under the Arizona model eligible voters who have either a Texas Driver’s License or Personal ID can register online directly with the Secretary of State and their entries will be verified against DPS records. He noted there were still problems with voter purges and this is not a catch all since you still need a state issued ID to register online.
“It’s not a perfect system, but it moves us closer to universal registration and would free up valuable resources to touch people who are harder to reach or don’t have proper identification…Every time you move there should be an opportunity to register whether you are a student who moves into a dorm, or you move across town to a new apartment; we want to make it as automatic as we can.”
He also said that studies show if you get a young person to vote at 18 they are more likely to make it a lifelong habit. That’s why he wants to work with school districts to make sure when every child turns 18 they receive a Happy Birthday voter registration card.
His goal is to have 800,000 registered voters by the next presidential election and that will put the county back at just above 90% registration. In the meantime his office is taking requests to deputize voter registrars on site for groups of 10 or more in addition to regular monthly trainings at the Tax office. Last year the office had over 3,000 deputies and looks to match that again this year. “We are thinking about a contest, I think if you register 100 voters you deserve a certificate, so we are looking for a way to do that. We would also like to do a PSA contest with High School students on why its important to vote.”
For more information on voting in Travis County or if you would like to become a deputy voter registrar visit the Travis County Tax Office online.
You can follow me on twitter at @Joethepleb.