When I first heard about the Government Accountability Board’s unanimous decision to allow Wisconsin citizens to use electronic devices – namely, cell phones and laptops – to show state-approved documentation of residency for voter registration, my thought was that it was a natural move. Why? If for no other reason, because most things election-related are electronic; from the Bush-mandated Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS), to the recently implemented online voter registration through the Voter Public Access site, to ballot collections, to election results tabulation, delivery, and posting. With the exception of very few municipalities that still do hand-counting of votes, almost everything related to elections is done with the use of technology. So why not voter registration?
I decided to take a closer look and what kind of technology is in use already to try to understand why anyone would have a problem with this new rule.
First, the GAB already offers “fillable” voter registration applications online, which are absolutely intended for people to fill out using a computer. Even if a paper copy is still required to complete the process if registering in-person or via mail, I believe that a paper form eventually won’t be required if people “pre-register” using the State’s online application, because registration information is deposited directly into the SVRS. Since there won’t be any data-entry involved on the part of the clerks’ offices for those registrations, the printed registration form will serve no purpose because the only thing that has to be entered is what was used to verify residency. Clerks don’t need the form to pull up a person’s record in the SVRS. No doubt the GOP would have huge issues with this but, again, it’s a natural progression in this day and age of technology-aided everything. Thus far, though, I’ve not heard anyone complaining about the availability and use of these online, fillable forms…but I won’t hold my breath. The GOP whines about anything that helps voters vote.
Moving on, verification of voter registrations is also done using technology. The SVRS performs an electronic cross-match with the Wisconsin Department of Health (to check death records), the Department of Corrections (to check felon status), and the Division of Motor Vehicles (to check drivers’ license records). Interfacing between 3 separate agencies using 3 separate database systems is not easy, but through the miracle of technology, it’s done for the sake of election integrity. (Note: The SVRS may also interface with the Social Security Administration, too, otherwise there would be no need for the last 4 digits of a person’s social security number, but I’ve not found documentation of that as of yet.)
Another way the GAB uses technology in relation to voter registration is the Voter Public Access site, which is part of the SVRS. As mentioned earlier in this post and explained in my post “Online voter registration comes to WI! (But, shhh! Don’t tell anyone…)" not only did the GAB (quietly) implement online voter registration in August 2012, allowing Wisconsin citizens to start the registration process by entering their own information into the SVRS, but the VPA site also allows individuals to look up voter registration status and participation history online. Clearly, the GAB has been advancing with technology, streamlining processes, and helping to ensure accuracy of voter information. Continuing down that path is not only natural, but it’s logical.
Now, by far the most crucial way in which technology is “invading” our election processes is through the use of electronic voting machines. For years, machines have been used to collect ballots and tabulate votes, and it seems mighty contradictory for the GAB to be okay with the use of electronic voting machines that have been proven to be easily manipulated to flip votes in a particular candidate’s favor, but they’re not okay with a voter producing a bank statement using a iPad. Walker’s pet agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, uses brand new iPads to conduct the official state business of creating jobs, but a citizen can’t use one to show an electric bill when they register to vote? Give me a break!
What does DOA have to say about this?
Nothing yet. But in an article on the WisconsinReporter, there is a question about whether or not the Department of Administration will overrule the GAB board’s decision. However, in looking into the DOA’s policies about the use of electronic documents, I don’t really see why they would. I found a statement on the Division of Enterprise Technology’s page of their website that proclaims they “use technology to improve government efficiency and service delivery.” What’s more, they clearly acknowledge electronic documents in their rules regarding records retention, for example, in their “Records Management Section Fact Sheet #6”. So, if DOA has a problem with citizens using electronic devices to provide the required documentation, it seems to me they would be contradicting their own commitment to improving efficiency and service delivery using technology – at least, as it relates to voter registration and elections. But that still remains to be seen…
The GAB “Staff” Says No!
The same article mentions a memo submitted by GAB staff to defend their position against using laptops and cell phones to show state-approved documentation of residency. Page 166 of the board meeting agenda begins the section about this issue, which is actually from Kevin Kennedy (the “staff” continuously mentioned in various articles about this). One argument he uses is that the Webster’s Dictionary uses the word “paper” to define “document”, thereby justifying their position:
“Staff has not located a statute which specifies whether a document includes a copy or only an original of a record. Webster’s Dictionary defines “document” as “proof, evidence,” or “an original or official paper relied on as the basis, proof, or support of something,” or “a writing conveying information.” These definitions may support an interpretation that a proof of residence document must be a paper document.”First, let me say that it took me all of 2 minutes to find the statutory language that will allow for electronic documents to be shown, and the language seems pretty clear. WI Statute 137.15 (3) states:
“If a law requires a record to be in writing, an electronic record satisfies that requirement in that law.”So now I must ask, will Mr. Kennedy accept that “in writing” indicates “on paper”? If so, he must also accept this statutory language that says electronic records count. If not…if he doesn’t…nothing could be more convincing to me of his partisanship and favoritism to the Republican Party because this is their fight. THEY are the ones trying to restrict voting, and for Kevin Kennedy to take their side AGAIN tells me he’s not nearly the non-partisan state employee he is supposed to be. Especially when, in this same meeting, he approved the use of more controversial voting machines (see page 136 of the meeting agenda).
In conclusion, it seems to this writer that there should be no legal problems allowing citizens to use electronic devices to show electronic documentation. The Department of Administration is committed to using “use technology to improve government efficiency and service delivery”, and Kevin Kennedy’s definition of a document that it must be paper is expanded by WI Statute 137.15 (3) to include electronic versions, and I agree with the GAB board’s decision.