New high-tech way to register voters


"Used to be done on paper" is the key phrase there.

A Silicon Valley company, Verafirma, has won approval by election officials in Santa Clara County to use secure touchpad technology for voter registration. Five voters have already done so.

"As touch screens become more prevalent, and by one estimate one out of every two people in the country will have one by 2014, we think everybody will benefit from this and use this," Verafirma co-founder Jude Barry said.

Barry is convinced using the iPhone, the iPad, Android smartphones and other devices will appeal to young people and will save money for county registrars. On saving money, Barry cites a study by the Pew Center on the States that says Oregon spent $9.7 million on paper-based voter registration in 2008. He hasn't determined yet what the touchscreen alternative will save, but he anticipates it could be as low as $1 to $2 per voter registered, versus the estimated $4 to $9 cost reported in the Pew Center study.

Here's how it works. The prospective voter logs onto a site to fill in personal information, including name, address, birth date, and Social Security number. Then there is a place for the registrant to sign his or her name. The completed form is then e-mailed to the voter, who can then e-mail it to the local registrar of voters. Barry says the information is secure and is based on the same technology as what many banks are using to allow customers to do financial transactions on their mobile devices.

The public information officer for the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, Elma Rosas, says the agency welcomes this new way to reach out to prospective voters and to voters seeking to update their address information. It is the first county in the state to use the Verafirma system. Verafirma is planning a major campaign to get other counties to accept electronic voter registration between now and the November general election.

"Anything that makes it easier for our voters to get the kinds of services that they like and deserve, then we're certainly in favor of it," Rosas said.

Rosas says the use of electronic or digital signatures for voter registration complies with Section 16.5 of the Government Code.

Students at San Jose State's student union told ABC7 News they are prime candidates to use touchscreen technology. One student noted that voter registration is about the only task she has done on paper, while class registration and many other form-related chores are now computer based. However, two students raised concerns about security issues.

The Verafirma system was used earlier this year to gather signatures for a statewide ballot initiative, but that use was struck down by a San Mateo County Superior Court judge as not compliant with the state election code.

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