Online Voter Registration for Jurisdictions Large and Small

Much of OSDV’s currrent work relates to election technology for voter registration.* In recent blog posts, I’ve been talking about voter registration in the context of OSDV’s mission to put much needed, innovative election technology into the hands of elections officials and voters who are underserved by the best that the for-profit election technology market has been able to deliver so far:

  • clunky, arcane, and opaque registration systems,
  • clunky, arcane, and opaque adminstration technology, and
  • voting systems that don’t accurately record votes.

(The latest in the latter saga of woe is NY state BoE’s report from an investigation of how the “phantom vote” phenomena manifested itself in voting systems that recorded votes not actually cast by anyone.)

Specifically for voter registration, among the many needs is one at the front end of the process: just getting people to fill out the administrative forms that are required for voting “eligibility management:

  • register to vote,
  • update a voter record,
  • request an absentee ballot or absentee status,

or the even more arcane forms that overseas and military voters use for

  • the same purposes but with different administrative rules, plus varying state-specific requirements.

The good news for citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia is that help is on the way, with a new voter service that will step a voter through each of several complex and VA-specific application forms and combinations — and produces properly formatted paper documents that regular people can actually understand, both voters before they sign and mail the forms, and local election officials who process them.

But what about other states and localities that don’t have the resources for the type of comprehensive project that the VA SBE has undertaken with OSDV and other participants? The good news for them is that there is a middle way. We took the first step a couple of weeks ago when we went live with a new release of the “Rocky” OVR assistance system operated by RockTheVote and hosted by Open Source Labs. The main feature of the new release was a web service application programming interface (API) that provides access to all of the Rocky functions. However, rather than via a browser of a user, the API provides those functions to other web sites.

How is that a benefit to elections officials, and a public benefit to voters? Sorry to make this post a cliff-hanger, but the explanation of the API will have to wait for next time. Stay tuned, it’s worth it!


* (As some readers may have figured out already, even-numbered years to focus on registration and reporting as the voter-visible bookends of an election, while odd-numbered years have more focus on the mechanics of casting and counting ballots and data interperability to enable public transparency.)

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