Michigan’s Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson announced Monday that Michigan residents can now register to vote and update their voter registration status online. In a statement, Benson announced the online option was implemented primarily as a means of enabling more streamlined, convenient means of registration for citizens.
“This fast, convenient, cost-effective and secure option to register to vote will enable many more people to participate in democracy and help Michigan’s clerks maintain complete, accurate and up-to-date voter rolls,” Benson said.
In the statement, Benson’s office outlined a number of benefits to implementing online voter registration, namely cutting costs on paper applications and mailing, increasing accuracy for applicant files, facilitating more frequent voter updates and allowing for ease and convenience for voters trying to register.
Michigan is now one of 38 states to allow electronic registration. Legislation to implement online voter registration was passed by the state legislature in 2018. After identifying their residency from a driver’s license or state ID, users can register or update their registration through an online tool. Those without a driver’s license or state ID are able to use the streamlined website to learn more about the means by which they can register.
LSA junior Carolyn Chen, director of voter registration for College Democrats, reflected on the importance of enacting legislation that eases the burden often associated with registering to vote.
“Voting registration laws are the number one reason why American voter turnout is low,” Chen said. “In a cost benefit analysis, the benefits of voting—having your one vote sway the entire election. (These benefits) are way less than the costs of having to register—taking the initiative to print out registration forms and mailing them into the city clerk. Anything that will help make voter registration easier will be a great step for democracy.”
Chen went on to discuss how Michigan legislators should be cautious in the program’s implementation, inasmuch as it may hinder some citizens from registering.
“There are still some issues that need to be solved since the online registration is so new,” Chen said. “Some states are including new ID laws with online registration which will just suppress more voters as well as some issues with mistakes in the system purging some voters, but nothing is perfect and this will be a great step forward.”
The voting announcement came after Michigan began automatic voter registration in conjunction with the distribution of driver’s license and state ID cards in September. Despite these recent changes, longstanding methods of voter registration, like registration by mail, will remain options for citizens.
Benson’s public statement claimed that young voters were particularly likely to take advantage of the online voter registration system. In 2017, the University of Michigan launched the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a nonpartisan effort to incite civic engagement among younger citizens and students across Big Ten universities. Edie Goldenberg, U-M political science and public policy professor, spearheaded the movement at the University. In an interview with The Daily, Goldenberg noted that while she was happy with the implementation of online registration, she wanted individuals to remember the program was only for in-state students.
“I am delighted that this is going to be implemented,” Goldenberg said. “It’s going to make things much easier, especially for students. But it’s important to remember that it’s only available for students who have either a Michigan driver’s license or a Michigan state ID.”
While this program could open doors for Michigan residents, it does not apply to out-of-state students, who make up a large portion of the student body, Goldenberg said.
“We have students from outside the state of Michigan who might want to vote in Michigan, they have the right to do that — any college student may choose to vote either at home or where they’re studying,” Goldenberg said. “So for those students, they can’t use electronic registration.”
She concluded by reflecting on the importance of legislation that allows for more streamlined voting registration, as it enables citizens to exercise one of their most fundamental rights.
“I think that voting is one of the most fundamental rights that citizens have,” Goldenberg said. “And I think that young people haven’t participated as much as I wish they would, and therefore … their priorities and interests are not being heard as much as older people's priorities and interests are.”