Accessible Online Voter Registration
by Kelsey Loschke, DRT Voting Rights Advocate
Online voter registration, or OVR, has become a growing trend across the country. Currently, at least 38 states have implemented an OVR system or recently passed legislation to create OVR. During this 109th session of the legislature, Tennessee was among those who passed legislation and will begin implementing OVR.
OVR in Tennessee
Tennesseans will be able to register to vote online beginning July 1, 2017 thanks to the Tennessee General Assembly and considerable support by Tre Hargett, Tennessee’s Secretary of State. The passed bill (HB1742/SB1626) will be implemented and funded by the Secretary of State’s Divisions of Elections and will establish an online system in which Tennessee voters can register to vote and update their registration. Currently voters are able to look up their voter information online but cannot make changes to the records or file a new registration application. All current voter registration is done by paper, an option that will still be available once OVR is established.
How does it work?
This new law requires a Tennessee issued driver’s license or ID to register to vote through the OVR system. This is because the OVR system will seek a match between the voter’s provided information and their records on file with the Tennessee Department of Safety. If a matching record is not found, the voter will be prompted to print and mail a paper voter registration application to their local election commission. For more information about obtaining a permanent state issued ID click HERE.
Equalizer or Widening the Gap?
Online voter registration has many benefits. Among those benefits are effective use of government time and money, increased protection against voter fraud, and streamlined information sharing across departments that will allow multiple records to be updated at once.
Of great importance to the disability community and DRT is the OVR’s potential to be a powerful tool in increasing access to voter registration through assistive technology (AT), such as tablets, mobile phones and computers. AT not only adds a new avenue for access, it creates a more responsive tool for individuals with disabilities. For example, accessible technology can adapt quicker than accessible print media, such as large print or braille, whose existence is static once produced and can be cumbersome to edit and re-print.
Furthermore, implementation of an OVR that is designed to be universally accessible among people of all abilities has the potential to increase voter registration rolls, as seen in Delaware, Kansas, South Dakota and Washington. In a review conducted in January 2015, California was the only state with a fully accessible OVR system. The website features easy screen reader access, skip navigation, and keyboard access among other accessible qualities. It was designed with use of code compliant to the nationally accepted World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. Other nationally accepted standards for web access include Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. However, if OVR systems are created without accessible formats, the passing of OVR can instead create a wider gap in voter engagement.
Voting is a civic opportunity given to all but one that is not currently easily accessible to all. The passage of OVR in Tennessee provides an opportune time for our state to equalize voting access. If you are having problems registering to vote or with the voting process, DRT is here to help. Our intake team can be reached at 800.342.1660 or online at firstname.lastname@example.org.