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Test driving Florida's new voting option: Registering online

Two years in the making, Florida's new online voter registration system is on pace for an official launch on Oct. 1, as the Legislature directed in the 2015 session.

It's the most significant change in voter registration in years in Florida, and most county election supervisors got their first close-up look at the system Wednesday at their statewide conference in Davenport. Reviews were generally favorable, but growing concerns about cybersecurity were also heard.

"It works," Escambia Supervisor of Electitons David Stafford said. Paul Lux of Okaloosa said he was pleased with how the system will function. Stafford, Lux and supervisors Wesley Wilcox in Marion and Chris Chambless in Clay all participated in dry-run tests last month.

Registering to vote online is already in effect in more than 20 states, and it will be an option in Florida in English and Spanish. Voting experts and policymakers hope it will result in more eligible adults joining the ranks of eligible voters in the nation's third-largest state.

When the Legislature first proposed it two years ago, Gov. Rick Scott's administration expressed cybersecurity concerns, but he signed the bill into law.

Anyone registering online must complete a "captcha" step that's used to ensure that a human being is applying -- not a computer -- and to thwart spam. Applicants also must input a street address by choosing their address based on online street directories already used by elections offices.

In addition to the basic information -- full name, date of birth, home address -- online registrants also must provide information not currently required by a printed voter registration form, including a full driver's license number, the date the license was issued (it's on the front of your license), and the last four digits of the applicant's Social Security number (one or the other is required for a written voter application, not both).

Online applicants also will be required to choose a political party to register. Under current law, a person who fills out a form can skip choosing a political party, and if that happens, the voter will be registered with no party affiliation. The online form will include the NPA option for new voters, but the applicant will have to check a box.

Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher questioned the state's authority to include those provisions and said they could prove "cumbersome" for people wanting to register online.

Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews said the state is confident that the requirements are legally valid, and supervisors Lux and Chambless agreed. They cited a need for a higher "level of authentication" for voters registering online than for people registering in person.

The online registration web site will be, and the site will not store or retain personal data, the state said.