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Our View: Online voter registration needs safeguards

Published: Monday, Feb. 18, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

It’s understandable that Illinois residents might be wary of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposal to allow residents to register to vote online.

Illinois is, after all, the place where the phrase “vote early and vote often” is most identified with, an infamous reference to the supposed practice of corrupt politicians ensuring a win by finding creative ways to stuff ballot boxes.

Supporters say online registration could benefit 2 million people qualified but not registered to vote. Republicans often skeptically view ideas that make it easier to vote because it likely would benefit those who traditionally vote for their opponents, such as low-income and minority voters.

Of course, registering to vote and casting a ballot should be easy. It’s the most basic right citizens enjoy (and we certainly would be happy to see more of them exercising that right every election day).

But such efforts must include safeguards that only eligible voters are able to register online, as well as not add costs to our fiscally challenged state.

There are places to turn for guidance, as more than a dozen states offer online registration.

In 2002, Arizona was the first state to implement online voter registration. More than 70 percent of all Arizona voter registrations are now performed online, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Cost savings in Arizona came from eliminating the data entry process a paper-based system required: A 2010 report by Pew Charitable Trusts found that costs associated with paper voter registration were 83 cents, while the online costs of an online registration was just 3 cents.

Some of the states allowing online voter registration require a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number, allowing for immediate checks against duplicate records, the NCSL reports.

If Illinois does decide to go down this path, we urge lawmakers to put in the necessary checks and balances to weed out imposters.

And for those not registered to vote: Don’t wait for this to get your name on the voter rolls. The last day to register for the April 9 election is March 12.

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