Saturday, April 4, 2020

Online voter registration might compromise system

Smart politicians know that to reach young voters, their campaigns need to institute Web-based social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. Internet connectivity has played an enormous part in politics the past few years and users are able to find information on political candidates from an endless amount of online sources.

Efforts by state Rep. Lesia Liss, D-Macomb County, would further the role the Internet plays in politics. Liss is sponsoring a bill that would allow potential voters to register online — thus avoiding lengthy lines at the Secretary of State office and the necessity of heading back to their hometown to register.

Although the bill might make it easier for MSU students away from home to register to vote in their hometown, the bill raises many questions about the security of the proposed process. Online registration would not allow for the identity verification process — an integral part of the current system — and voter fraud might be more likely to occur.

Many students choose to register in person in their hometown rather than East Lansing, and it’s unclear how online registration would avoid such necessities as identity verification. There might be effective ways to curb abuse of the new system, but there is little question that an online process greatly increases the risks of voter fraud and other problems.

Additionally, the bill would allow voters to register up until 4 p.m. the day before an election. Allowing voters to register mere hours before the polls open seems unnecessary and will almost certainly be an added burden for local election officials who already have their hands full. It is doubtful all voters who register in the final days before the election would be able to be properly verified and cleared for voting. And it’s highly unlikely the process would be conducted as thoroughly as at a Secretary of State office.

If funding is available for such measures, why not create an in-house system at Secretary of State offices to register online or via computer? This way, identification verification still would play a part in the process and voter fraud could be better avoided.

MSU’s YouVote campaign to register MSU students as voters has proven quite effective in the past. A little more than a year ago, students could hardly get two blocks down Grand River Avenue without being asked if they had registered to vote. The campaign has done an excellent job minimizing the inconveniences associated with voter registration — at least in the East Lansing area.

But it would be a mistake to assume that easier registration would automatically result in a larger percentage of registered students turning out to the ballot box. It’s good that some state lawmakers are trying to engage young people through more convenient voter registration, but if there isn’t an equal or greater emphasis on ensuring that young people actually cast their ballot on Election Day, the whole process is pointless.

Online registration might increase the number of voters, but the benefits simply do not justify jeopardizing the stability of the election process.

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