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OPINION

  • Gov. Quinn feeds his ballot into a machine for scanning on Nov. 2, 2010.
Gov. Quinn feeds his ballot into a machine for scanning on Nov. 2, 2010. (Antonio Perez/Chicago…)
October 16, 2012|By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco | RedEye

Millennials are a tech-savvy, mobile generation. But are election officials keeping up?

In Illinois, many consider voter registration a time-consuming, antiquated and multi-step process.

The good news is Chicago's election board is trying to bring the process into the 21st century.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners allowed eligible voters to launch the registration process online. The board offered to print out completed forms and send them to voters for their signatures. However, voters still had to sign and mail the forms back.

Other strides: Voters can check their registration online or text 312-361-8846 to find their polling places. Officials this year also have extended the grace period to register. At this point, voters can register and vote in-person in the same visit at 69 W. Washington St. until Nov. 3.

But more tech-savvy initiatives can be incorporated in the voter registration and voting process. Other states are leading the way in working out the kinks to simplify the process so voters can exercise their rights and flex their political muscles.

Online voter registration

Illinois law requires a "wet ink" signature on voter forms. There are 13 states that offer online registration. In California, 220,000 people used the online voter registration system in the first two weeks it was up and running. Some states are using signatures on file with the DMV to verify and complete the paperless voter registration. Chicago plans to pursue this option at next year's state legislative session.

State data collaboration

Electronic Registration Information Center is a partnership created with the help of Pew's Election Initiatives Project that allows states to share registration and other data to keep updated voter records and encourage eligible voters to register. Colorado saw 30,000 new registrations online in about a month after mailing eligible but unregistered voters. Only seven states participate in the partnership, and none of them are in the Midwest.

Social media presence

Young voters are not informed when it comes to voter registration deadlines and election laws, a recent survey showed. Such information could be spread via social media. The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Facebook page has 193 "likes," but there's no app or tab that pulls up a voter registration form—as Washington state had. And unlike New York City, Chicago's board does not have a Twitter account to engage voters.

Email/text reminders

Utah gives voters the option of signing up for election reminders. Not so in Illinois, where voters aren't even asked to supply an email address on registration forms. Some Chicagoans already get email reminders to buy city stickers, so this could be another way to reach potential voters.

Voting technology

Voters in Chicago have two options to cast ballots: marking a paper ballot or using a touchscreen machine. There's supposed to be one touch screen at each of the city's 2,000-plus polling places, but sometimes voters don't get the memo. The city's election board has no plans to add more touchscreens but is exploring technology to make checking into the polls paperless.

lvivanco@tribune.com

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