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Lawmaker proposes end-of-year deadline for Oklahoma online voter registration

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Whitney Bryen
/
Oklahoma Watch
Voters are seen casting their ballots for the primary election at the St. James AME Church in Arcadia on June 28, 2022.

After another general election cycle came and went without the state’s long-awaited online voter registration system, one lawmaker hopes to set a firm deadline.

Senate Bill 90 by Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City, would require the State Election Board to accept voter registration applications online no later than Dec. 31. While the Legislature authorized state election officials to create the system in 2015, technical problems cross-referencing information from voters’ state-issued identification with the Department of Public Safety has delayed the project for years.

Prospective voters may fill out a registration form online, a service offered since 2018, but they must print out the form, sign it and deliver it to their county election board in person or via mail. Oklahoma is one of 10 states that accept only physical voter registration forms, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In July, State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said the agency was hopeful to fully launch the system ahead of the Nov. 8 general election but added that technical issues outside of the agency’s control could cause further delays.

Kirt said she’s concerned the project will be set aside without a required completion date. Launching at the end of the year would allow the state to issues ahead of the 2024 presidential primary and general election, she said.

“I’m worried we’re going to go through another general election without it,” she said in an interview. “So I wanted to remind my colleagues that this is necessary and absolutely crucial for the modern era.”

Voter advocacy groups say online voter registration is an effective tool to boost youth voter turnout and civic engagement, which has historically lagged in Oklahoma. More than three-quarters of the state’s registered voters 30 and under did not participate in the November midterm election, the Tulsa World reported last month. Statewide voter participation dipped by about 5% compared to the 2018 midterm contest.

Ziriax said testing of the final phase of the project is ongoing, but added that placing a firm deadline on the project could jeopardize security and overall functionality.

“No one wants to launch online voter registration more than me,” Ziriax said in a statement. “However, it would be irresponsible for the Secretary of the State Election Board to prematurely launch an online voter registration system before it is ready for use and fully secure.”

It will be an uphill battle for the bill to advance in the Republican-controlled legislature, where just a dozen bills with Democrats as the original lead sponsor were signed into law last year. Kirt authored a similar bill in 2020, which proposed a March 2021 deadline for the system to fully launch. That measure narrowly cleared the Senate Rules Committee and was never introduced in the full Senate.

The legislative session convenes on Feb. 6. In order to reach the governor’s desk, bills must clear House and Senate committees and receive a majority of votes in both chambers.

Kirt said she would prefer the system launch in the coming months with no legislative action required.

“It’s just not been a priority,” she said. “One of my hopes is that the secretary (Ziriax) has been working with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services on the process, and I just hope it moves up the list in terms of things that they’re working on.”

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.
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