By: Caroline Drinnon
As of September 2017, Tennessee joined the ranks of another 35 states, plus the District of Colombia, in enacting an online voter registration system. Following a 2016 law that mandated an online voter registration system be in place by July (later extended to September) of 2017, the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office officially opened the website on September 1. Proponents of the system believe that it will streamline the registration system, reduce clerical errors, and lower taxpayer costs of the process. The registration process can be found here and requires a Tennessee driver’s license or Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security ID to be completed.
The online voter registration process began in the spring of 2016, when the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation requiring the Secretary of State’s office to implement the online system. The House passed the Senate-led bill unanimously, overcoming concerns of potential privacy breaches and voter fraud. Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, a sponsor of the House bill, reassured voters that there would be ample safeguards against voter fraud,. The success in dozens of other states was able to pave the way for Tennesseans to jump on board.
One of the biggest election issues Tennesseans face is low voter turnout. Tennessee has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country, consistently ranked as 47th or below in state-by-state analyses of recent election years. But will easing the process of registration increase voter turnout? Many Tennessean officials are hopeful, especially for targeting the younger demographic, who conduct most of their lives and business on the web. “This system meets people where they already are: online,” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “It will improve accuracy and efficiency for voters and election officials by ensuring there are fewer errors and more accurate voter rolls.” There is currently little evidence that easier access to registration will increase turnout, but an easier system cannot hurt, either. Registering to vote is an important step in the voting process, and encouraging more citizens to register will hopefully engage more individuals in the civic process.
The Tennessee Secretary of State’s office has coupled the online registration system roll-out with a social media campaign to increase awareness and interest in voting among Tennesseans. The voter registration website includes the tag #GoVoteTN with the suggestion to use the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to raise awareness. Additionally, there is now a GoVoteTN mobile phone app that will allow individuals to “find their Election Day polling locations, view and mark sample ballots, see their elected officials, districts and county election commission information as well as access online election results.” The thought seems to be that to increase the ease of voting, coupled with a social media awareness campaign, voter turnout rates in Tennessee will increase in the upcoming elections. There are of course several other factors that can affect voter turnout – Tennessee’s increasing partisan shift to the right, lack of access or transportation to voting centers, etc. – but it appears that many Tennessee officials and citizens are hopeful that the new system will bring about observable change in the near future.