State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

Now-stymied online voter registration plan didn't have to be

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Oct 1, 2013 2:40 PM

Photo by Mary Wilson / witf

A bipartisan array of groups wants registering to vote to be as simple as a few clicks and an Internet connection. Their members urged state House lawmakers Tuesday to advance a proposal allowing online voter registration in Pennsylvania.

It's already legal in 17 states and available in 11.

In Pennsylvania, the state Senate unanimously approved an online voter registration measure. It is now before the House State Government Committee.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), said there are no plans at this time to hold a vote on the bill.

"I'm more interested in working on issues... that are going to improve the integrity of the elections," Metcalfe said, adding that online voter registration introduces the potential for "fraud and shenanigans." He voiced concern about the security of an applicant's signature when filling out a form online.

"What is it about elections that make people suddenly see technology as a dark force?" said Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster). He sponsored the Senate proposal to allow online registration.

"Some doubters worry about security," Smucker continued at a press conference Tuesday. "But today people many people run their personal finances online. In fact, we encourage people to do their taxes online. If security were a serious concern, those are the places where we would see problems - certainly not with a simple voter registration."

Supporters of Smucker's bill see online registration as a way to increase the voter pool, and especially bring young people into the fold.

"Remember, this is the group of people who instinctively ask, 'Is there an app for that?'" said Christopher Nicholas, with the Pennsylvania Business Council. The group joins others with Republican agendas (e.g., the Commonwealth Foundation, Dauphin County Republicans) that have voiced support for online voter registration.

Elizabeth Randol, with Common Cause Pennsylvania, said Monday will mark the third voter registration deadline to pass without online registration being an option, despite promises from the Department of State to enact it by July of 2012.

"15 months later, Pennsylvanians are still not able to register online," Randol said.

The agency doesn't need a new law to allow Pennsylvanians to register to vote online. It's going the new-law route, in part, because that's how other states have enacted online registration. But DOS spokesman Ron Ruman said last summer, counties asked the agency not to order another change in election protocol. Local election boards already had their hands full implementing the controversial voter identification requirement. Voter ID still hasn't been enforced, due to court challenges, and is awaiting a Commonwealth Court ruling now.

So, supporters of online registration are left to lean on lawmakers. For Smucker, it's an easy decision.

"When a constituent asked me why he could not register to vote online," he said, "it struck me that allowing that would be a good, direct, and logical first step to addressing the need for greater participation."


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