Statement on behalf of the

American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital

by

Monica Hopkins-Maxwell

Executive Director

Before the Committee on the Judiciary

of the Council of the District of Columbia

 

Bill 21-0193, the “Ballot Access Modernization Amendment Act of 2015”

and

Bill 21-0194, the “Automatic Voter Registration Amendment Act of 2015”

 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

 

Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on Bill 21-0193, the “Ballot Access Modernization Amendment Act of 2015,” and Bill 21-0194, the “Automatic Voter Registration Amendment Act of 2015.” My name is Monica Hopkins-Maxwell and I am Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital (ACLU-DC). I am here today on behalf of our more than 3,000 members across all eight wards in the District of Columbia.

Bill 21-0193, the “Ballot Access Modernization Amendment Act of 2015”

Bill 21-0193, the “Ballot Access Modernization Amendment Act of 2015,” requires the Board of Elections (BOE) to implement a mobile application system that will allow a candidate, campaign, or person proposing an initiative or referendum to gather signatures. The mobile application system must connect to the voter registration system, maintain a count of signatures collected, and include a function that allows signed petitions to be printed out for submission to the BOE.

Bill 21-0194, the “Automatic Voter Registration Amendment Act of 2015”

Bill 21-0194, the “Automatic Voter Registration Amendment Act of 2015,” permits a voter to register as a qualified elector with the BOE by applying for identification from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), makes changes to the application form for DMV issued identification, and requires the DMV to transmit electronic records to the BOE for each citizen that consents to register electronically.

The ACLU-DC fully supports the intent of both Bill 21-0193 and Bill 21-0194 and commends the DC Council’s leadership on the critical need to modernize our voter registration and petition signature collection systems. As discussed below, the ACLU-DC asserts that online voter registration is best practice and would thereby significantly improve the quality of the District’s voter registration system.

 I.                   Overview 

Even though the Internet makes it possible for us to pay bills, bank, shop, and read books without the use of paper,[1] in the District of Columbia, registering to vote still involves filling out paper applications or “online” applications that must be printed and physically mailed to the BOE.[2]

It is important to note that the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor issued a report in February 2015, finding that the BOE’s Election Day preparation and administration can be improved.[3] The ACLU-DC recommends addressing the 15 recommendations outlined in the report. In order to bring the District’s voter registration into the 21st century, we are advocating for specific reforms that have been demonstrated to be extremely effective at expanding and maintaining accurate voter rolls.

Following the November 2012 election and widespread reports of long lines and other election administration issues at polling places across the country,[4] Americans have seen the importance of measures that expand access to the polls. State-level efforts to expand access to the polls include online voter registration, expanding early voting, and same-day voter registration. I will limit my comments today to online voter registration.

II.                Online Voter Registration

We have seen that more and more jurisdictions are moving their voter registration systems online.[5] These jurisdictions are realizing substantial cost savings, greatly reducing the administrative burden on elections officials, decreasing the potential for fraud, and making the voter registration process more accurate, efficient, and convenient.

In December 2013, with updates in February 2015, the ACLU, in consultation with the Social Science Research Council, produced a report concerning the costs of modernizing voter registration systems.[6] The study revealed that a modern voter registration system consists of five important self-explanatory features:

  1. A secure website for remote paperless registration;
  2. Automated/paperless registration;
  3. Access for those without state-issued identification;
  4. Online availability at all government service agencies; and
  5. Accessibility for people with disabilities.[7] 

 III. Cost Savings

The opportunities for cost savings by moving from a paper-based to a paperless system become readily apparent when examining the steps involved in these two systems, particularly with regard to staffing implications.[8]

The elements of a paper-based system that are eliminated by switching to a fully modernized system fall into two main categories: staff costs and nonstaff expenses.[9] Staff costs involve data entry and application processing, verifying eligibility, checking discrepancies, creating and mailing forms, and processing provisional ballots after elections. Nonstaff expenses are comprised mostly of printing and scanning costs and postage stamps required for cards or forms sent between elections officials and registrants.[10]

The report found that some best practices for maximizing access to voting while also saving money are as follows:

  1. Design a system based on collaboration between those government agencies with the information and tools needed for voter registration. This yields a more efficient system that can be built faster and at a lower cost.
  2. Build a secure, computerized, statewide voter registration database first. This makes subsequent steps easier and less costly.
  3. Offer online registration for those without a driver’s license or state-issued ID. This maximizes use of the system by all.
  4. Incorporate accessibility features for the disabled, such as screen readers, at the design phase. This costs considerably less than retrofitting these features after the site is built and yields a better site both for people with disabilities and for all users; these sites are easier to understand and navigate, time out less, and allow voters to register successfully.  
  5. Ensure the technology platform chosen for an online registration site has localization capabilities built in that allow the creation of multiple versions of the same page in different languages. This facilitates parallel language sites at little additional cost beyond that of translation.[11]

The ACLU-DC encourages the DC Council to consider the opportunities for cost savings discussed above. This is a tremendous opportunity that should not be overlooked.

 IV.             Other Benefits of Online Voter Registration  

There are several other benefits of online voter registration. For elections officials, the benefits include a greatly decreased administrative burden, less time pressure on their work around election deadlines, and the near total elimination of paper filing.[12] For citizens, registering to vote online is more convenient, quick, and accurate.[13]

Additionally, some jurisdictions have observed shorter DMV lines due to the reduced transaction time of those who choose to register to vote there.[14] It is also important to note that each paperless voter registration contributes to environmental sustainability.[15] In short, online voter registration is helping to increase voter franchise and build a more robust and vibrant democracy.[16]

 V.                Privacy Projections

It is critical that the proper privacy protections are in place when implementing an online voter registration system. The following are best practices for online voter registration websites to ensure voter privacy and protect registration data from unauthorized use:

  1. Inform voters of public accessibility of their data;
  2. Encrypt personal registration data;
  3. Build secure lookup tools;
  4. Restrict access and maintain a comprehensive audit log; and
  5. Establish a voter privacy advisory board.

 1.      Inform voters of public accessibility of their data

Some personal information about registered voters must legally be made accessible to political parties, election campaigns, and advocacy groups. Voter registration websites should indicate those items that will become publicly available and should distinguish clearly between required and optional information during the registration process.[17]

2.      Encrypt personal registration data 

Translating personal information into encrypted code decipherable only by the system itself helps safeguard data against misuse by hackers and identity thieves in the event that voter registration data are lost or stolen.[18] All personal data about registered voters entered into state voter rolls should be encrypted.[19]

3.      Build secure lookup tools

The ability to check and update registration information online is a major benefit of a modern registration system.[20] However, these lookup tools must be made secure by ensuring they return only as much personal information as the user of the site enters.[21] Furthermore, these lookup tools must be on secure servers.[22]

4.      Restrict access and maintain a comprehensive audit log

Voter registration data and the systems that compile and maintain the voter rolls should be accessible only to authorized state and county elections officials.[23] All changes to individual voter registration records and to the electronic voter rolls overall should be recorded in a secure audit log accessible only to authorized personnel.[24] Regular audits of the log should be performed to review all activity within the system and detect irregular activity that might indicate a security breach.[25]

5.      Establish a voter privacy advisory board 

New tools are constantly being developed and new ways to breach security are also regularly emerging.[26] In order to keep abreast of these developments, an expert group in data management and online security should be convened to establish and review the implementation of privacy policies and to update these policies as necessary.[27]

 VI.             Conclusion

Voting brings us together. By voting, you join your family and friends in helping to strengthen your community. Voting is the one time when we are all equal — whether young or old, rich or poor — and the one time when we all have the same say. The DC Council should do everything in its power to create as much access to this fundamental right as it can.

The ACLU-DC looks forward to the opportunity to work with you as these measures move forward in the legislative process. Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions.




[1] The Costs of Modernizing Voter Registration Systems: A Case Study of California and Arizona. By: American Civil Liberties Union and the Social Science Research Council. December 2013 [Updated February 2015]. Available at, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/022415-aclu-voterregcostsonline_0.pdf.

[2] Id.

[3] The District of Columbia Board of Elections Election Day Preparation and Administration Can Be Improved. Office of the District of Columbia Auditor. By: Gregory Johnson and Julie Lebowitz. February 2015. Available at, http://www.dcauditor.org/sites/default/files/DCA122015.pdf.

[4] See generally. 2012 Elections: Long Lines, Suppression, Voting And Ballot Issues Reported At Polling Places. Huffington Post. By: Daniel Lippman. November 2012. Available at, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/2012-elections-polling-places_n_2036228.html.

[5] The Costs of Modernizing Voter Registration Systems: A Case Study of California and Arizona. By: American Civil Liberties Union and the Social Science Research Council. December 2013 [Updated February 2015]. Available at, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/022415-aclu-voterregcostsonline_0.pdf. 

[6] Id.

[7] Id.  

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] The Costs of Modernizing Voter Registration Systems: A Case Study of California and Arizona. By: American Civil Liberties Union and the Social Science Research Council. December 2013 [Updated February 2015]. Available at, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/022415-aclu-voterregcostsonline_0.pdf.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id. 

[16] Id. 

[17]Upgrading Democracy: Improving America’s Elections by Modernizing States’ Voter Registration Systems. Pew Center on the States. November 2010. Available at, http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2010/upgradingdemocracyreportpdf.pdf

[18] The Costs of Modernizing Voter Registration Systems: A Case Study of California and Arizona. By: American Civil Liberties Union and the Social Science Research Council. December 2013 [Updated February 2015]. Available at, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/022415-aclu-voterregcostsonline_0.pdf.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25]Upgrading Democracy: Frequently Asked Questions about Improving Voter Registration. Pew Center on the States. April 2011. Available at, http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2011/upgrading20democracy20faqpdf.pdf.

[26] The Costs of Modernizing Voter Registration Systems: A Case Study of California and Arizona. By: American Civil Liberties Union and the Social Science Research Council. December 2013 [Updated February 2015]. Available at, https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/022415-aclu-voterregcostsonline_0.pdf. 

[27] Letter from Disability Rights California to Honorable Debra Bowen, California Secretary of State. By: Goldstein et al. March 27, 2013. 

 

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21-0193 and 21-0194

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