MUSCATINE, Iowa — Iowa county auditors haven't been briefed yet on possible plans for online voter registration in Iowa, but Muscatine County's auditor said it will likely be coming during the next national election cycle.

"It does look like the wave of the future," Leslie Soule said. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures said 21 states — including Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois — offer online registration and three states, including Nebraska, have passed legislation to create a system but have not yet implemented it.

Such a plan is now up for consideration by the Iowa Voter Registration Commission after it hosted a public hearing on the issue Tuesday. It would allow the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) to help residents register to vote online. If approved, the plan could be in place by the 2016 primary elections, Iowa's incoming top election official, Secretary of State-Elect Paul Pate, said Tuesday.

It would work by allowing qualified voters with a state driver's license or photo ID to register online to vote on a website. 

It would then forward that information to the state's voter database. Currently, voters registering or updating their information must fill out a paper application form. Soule said her office already imports new voter registration information from the DOT when Muscatine County residents register to vote at driver's license locations.

Pate, a Republican who takes office this month, said he hopes to have the online system running for those in the DOT system by the primary election in June 2016.

"My goal is, well before the next election cycle we would have this in place on some level, and keep expanding on it as we have the resources to do that," he said.

He said finalizing the rule would provide online registration for 93 percent of Iowans and the regulation could be amended as needed to incorporate qualified voters who don't have a DOT-issued ID or license.

Voters rights groups have expressed concerns about the ability of people without DOT-issued identification — such as minorities, lower-income residents and out-of-state students — to register to vote. They say requiring someone to have a photo ID to vote could disenfranchise some people.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa supports online voter registration, but wants to allow people without photo ID to use the online system to register using other identification, such as the last four digits of their Social Security number. Pate, in an interview with the Muscatine Journal on Oct. 29, said he was interested in securing funding to allow the DOT to issue voter photo IDs to people without driver's licenses at no charge.

The commission is expected to meet again in the coming weeks for a final vote on the regulation.

Soule said she was not sure what sort of impact such a proposal would have on voter registration numbers in Muscatine County. Currently, she said that there are nearly 30,000 registered voters in the county out of a population of more than 40,000.

"This is just one way to make it [voting] easier," Soule said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Government and general news reporter