Vermont's new online voter registration program, which took effect Oct. 12, is the first step towards implementing a system where everyone with a Vermont drivers’ license will automatically be registered to vote.
Right now it's estimated that roughly 10 percent of all Vermonters over 18, roughly 50,000 people, aren't registered to vote. The new program is designed to make the registration process more convenient.
Using the secretary of state's website, the new program allows a person to fill out the registration form, which is then sent directly to the voter's town clerk's office. The new online system will also allow registered voters to request early ballots.
Vermont now joins 25 other states to offer online voter registration.
The initiative is part of a comprehensive elections management program being implemented by Secretary of State Jim Condos. The total cost of the overall program is $2.7 million with the federal government picking up $2 million of that tab.
Gov. Peter Shumlin says the online registration program brings Vermont into the 21st century.
“What this means is that in the most important part of democracy, the foundation of democracy the ability of everybody to vote this is going to make (that) possible,” Shumlin explains. “It's going to make a huge difference in terms of convenience for folks to register to vote."
The new program has been quietly operating for the past week or so and already, 285 people have signed up through the system. Montpelier City Clerk John Odum says the enrollment numbers are an encouraging sign.
“I think that suggests that it could get a lot more use possibly than any of us were expecting.” Odum says. “If so, that again makes our lives easier as clerks, if they're coming in (online) … we're processing that stuff directly into our work stations, rather than processing stacks of paper."
In the coming years, Secretary Condos wants Vermont to move to an automatic voter registration system. Under this approach, all licensed drivers would automatically be registered to vote, but would still provide individuals the option to "opt out" of the system if they so choose.
"Automatic registration, which basically uses your DMV rolls and matches up.” Condos explains. "We're going to have that conversation with the Legislature this year. We support that concept."
When asked about the possibility of online voting, Condos said it is too early to consider this proposal because there are still too many security questions surrounding this plan.