Thursday, October 17, 2013
Macomb County clerk pushes for online voter registration
By Chad Selweski, The Macomb Daily
Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh continues her bid to bring online voter registration to Michigan, or at least to Macomb County.
Sabaugh hopes to convince state lawmakers to establish Internet-based registration in Michigan, or to allow Macomb County to go first as either a pilot project or a county granted a special exemption due to the lack of a state law.
Currently, 12 states allow online registration and six others are in the process of implementing such a system. Beyond the convenience involved, supporters say offering voter registration on a website appeals to tech-savvy young adults, a group whose percentage of registrants is noticeably low.
Sabaugh has met with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to push for online registration as recently as April, and two Democratic lawmakers from Macomb County, Sen. Steve Bieda of Warren and state Rep. Sarah Roberts of St. Clair Shores, have introduced legislation to make the high-tech version of registration happen.
Johnson, an Oakland County Republican who has a long-standing bipartisan relationship with Sabaugh, a Warren Democrat, is also an advocate. Some political observers say that a group of conservative Republicans in the Legislature have held back the advance of any online registration bills, largely due to concerns about fraud and computer hackers.
However, Johnson has publicly expressed unequivocal support, saying that a secure online process is fully achievable.
The Macomb Daily file photo/DAVID DALTON -- Macomb County Clerk Carmella Sabaugh has led the way among Michigan clerks in embracing numerous new technologies that improve computer-based customer service.
In January, she said in an interview that an online registration process could be integrated with the current computer system that keeps tabs on hard-copy registration forms. ”We want everybody to have as many ways to register as possible,” said the former Oakland County clerk.
Sabaugh, who has led the way among Michigan clerks in embracing numerous new technologies that improve customer service, has favored online voter registration for several years.
In addition to Johnson, she met with former secretary of state Terri Lynn Land, Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff, Bill Rustem, and the Macomb County Board of Commissioners since 2011 to make a presentation promoting the concept. Snyder endorsed online registration in his January State of the State Address.
The county Board of Commissioners was apparently unaware of Sabaugh’s widespread efforts until last week, when a legal bill for about $25,000 was presented for payment. Sabaugh had hired the law firm of Jacobs and Diemer, which enjoys a national reputation in handling federalism issues, to research the county’s relative authority to establish online registration unilaterally, given the lack of a state law and the overlapping jurisdiction within state and federal election law.
The county’s interim legal chief, John Schapka, explained that the legal bill had “slipped through the cracks” when he took over as corporation counsel in August.
Supporters say online registration is cheaper and more able to detect fraud than the current paper system for several reasons:
* Illegible handwriting on paper can lead to inconclusive information;
* A person cannot register twice because their computer IP address, or Internet Protocol, would reveal such a scheme;
* Proof of when and what was filed is captured in a database, eliminating many forms of human error;
* Non-citizens are locked out of the online registration process, preventing inadvertent registrations;
* Traditional mail costs, which amounted to $40,000 in Macomb and Oakland counties from 2009-12, would be eliminated;
* And state law requires any newly registered voter to cast their first ballot in-person at the polls, which requires a state-issued photo ID to receive a ballot.
As with paper registration forms, those seeking to gain a spot on the voter rolls would provide basic information — name, address, birthdate. But they would sign the electronic form using their computer mouse, which can result in a sloppy signature that barely resembles the registrant’s typical cursive.
“The question is not whether online voter registration is perfect, but whether it is better than the paper forms involved in prior fraud allegations,” said county Chief Deputy Clerk Todd Schmitz. “Anyone who has recently made a credit card payment at a store, or signed for a package, knows electronic forms can have more safeguards than paper.”
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