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Maryland rolls out online voter registration

Just nine other states offer option

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Maryland residents can now register online to vote using a new Web-based system.

The Maryland State Board of Elections began promoting its new online-registration system with tweets from Gov. Martin O'Malley on Tuesday. The system has been available since July 9 and had been in the works for longer than a year.

"It's been on our radar screen for a while," said Mary Cramer Wagner, director of voter registration for the state board. "You always want the next best thing."

People wanting to vote enter their personal information and driver's license or state-issued ID numbers on a website. The license and ID numbers are cross-referenced with the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to ensure validity.

Military members stationed overseas can register online to vote using the last four digits of their Social Security number instead.

If a resident doesn't have a driver's license or state-issued ID and is not actively serving overseas, he or she still needs to sign and send in a voter-registration application. Residents required to mail applications can use the new website to fill them out before printing them.

As of Tuesday morning, 223 people had registered online to vote, Ms. Wagner said. Additionally, 689 registered voters had used the site to change their addresses.

"I think it'll be very popular," Ms. Wagner said. She said the new system will benefit both voters and voter-registration quality.

The website gives potential voters more time to register in order to cast a ballot in November. Voter registrations for the November election must be submitted by Oct. 16, but the online system allows voters to register until 9 p.m. that night — later than the post office is open.

The new setup could also simplify approval of voter-registration applications. It eliminates the need to interpret handwriting on a form and automatically confirms streets in a database, Ms. Wagner said.

She thinks the new system prevents fraud because voters' driver's license numbers must match up with their names. All electronic applications are still processed like their paper counterparts —approved by the local board of elections before applicants are sent voter-registration cards.

The 2011 General Assembly vote to establish the system was roughly divided along party lines with many Republicans voting against it. House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell said Tuesday that as the system is rolled out, caution needs to be taken.

"Only people who are qualified legal residents should be voting," said Mr. O'Donnell, Calvert Republican.

He emphasized the importance of monitoring the new system.

"We'll continue to watch. We'll continue to make sure that people who are registering are who they say they are," he said.

After the bill creating the online voter-registration system was signed into law last year, the Board of Elections voter-registration department set to work.

"My staff just burned the midnight oil," Ms. Wagner said.

The program was developed in-house with two elections board employees working in conjunction with existing voter-registration contractors.

This is part of a larger project to assist with voter registration. A new voter-services section has been created on the website. Already registered voters can check their personal information, including their current address, registered party affiliation, polling place and districts. Additionally,a stronger electronic interface was built between the elections board and the MVA to better confirm information, eliminating paper copies. Altogether, the project cost just under $500,000, Ms. Wagner said.

Online voter registration is available at https://voterservices.elections.state.md.us/OnlineVoterRegistration.

Maryland is one of 10 states that currently offer online voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eight of those states are in the western part of the country, and Maryland is the only online voter-registration state in the Mid-Atlantic region. Three more states have passed laws to implement online voter registration in the future.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the cost of the online voter registration project.

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