With all the focus lately on Pennsylvania’s congressional district map, an important electoral milestone may have been overlooked — which is that more than 1 million Pennsylvanians have now used the Wolf administration’s online voter registration (OVR) site. The system, launched in August 2015 by Gov. Wolf, has made it easier and more secure for citizens to register to vote and update their existing registrations. The 1 millionth user was from Delaware County.
“Pennsylvania’s constitution guarantees every eligible citizen the right to participate in a free and equal election, and every public servant should be focused on increasing citizen participation,” Gov. Wolf said. “I am proud of those in my administration who have helped more than a million people more easily participate in the process. The success of online voter registration is a testament to citizens’ desire for an election system that is more secure, easier to navigate, and better ensures their votes really count.”
The Pennsylvania Department of State oversaw the development, launch and maintenance of the OVR system, and has worked in other areas to encourage greater participation and convenience for voters.
“Pennsylvanians have embraced OVR in large numbers since the day it was launched,” said Robert Torres, acting secretary of the commonwealth. “In the first week, we logged 5,000 users. With the 2016 presidential election cycle, the number reached half a million.”
State and county election officials have found that electronic applications have improved accuracy, increased the integrity of the voting rolls, reduced time-consuming data entry and yielded considerable cost savings. The OVR system, available in English and Spanish, is more secure because electronic applications are submitted directly to the appropriate county voter registration office for processing. In contrast, traditional paper applications, containing personal information, may pass through several hands before reaching the correct destination. The latest protocols in data security were built into the new system and are constantly monitored and updated.
Because the OVR site can communicate with PennDOT’s system, if an applicant has a driver’s license or PennDOT ID card, the signature on file with PennDOT can immediately be linked to the voter record. Users without a PennDOT record may upload a digital signature directly to the OVR system or submit their signature by mail to complete the process.
Gov. Wolf has long advocated for reforms that would increase voter participation in our elections. For example, he supports automatic voter registration — as called for in Pa. House Bill 101 — which would break down barriers to voter registration by allowing citizens to register on Election Day at their polling places. He also believes that the current absentee ballot system is archaic, and instead, he supports “no excuse” absentee ballots, which would permit citizens to use an absentee ballot if it is most convenient for them to do so. In addition, the governor is in favor of legislation to reform the redistricting process in Pennsylvania, including Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722, whose goal is to end partisan gerrymandering by putting redistricting in the hands of an independent commission.
Pennsylvanians must either update their registration information or register to vote for the first time by April 16 in order to vote in this year’s May 15 primary.