Online convenience is the future, but laws cannot be forgotten

Most companies handle as much of their customer interactions online as possible. It has become entirely normal to us. From paying bills with an app to shopping online, to discussing complaints through chat bots – this is the way of the future.

Recently, Vote.org sought to make voter registration as simple as possible by using online outlets. This nonpartisan group’s mission is to make voting as simple as possible through technology. Their site seems to do just that, claiming “it takes less than two minutes to register.”

However, their methods recently came under fire by the Secretary of State and Texas Law. Is it possible for online convenience and the law to work harmoniously?

Thousands of voters rejected due to signature issue

As the deadline for registration loomed closer, somewhere between two and three thousand voter registrations were denied because of a technicality about the signature. Vote.org allowed participants to take pictures of their signature and submit it with their form. This was then ruled unacceptable by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. However, there doesn’t seem to be anything in Texas law that prohibits online signatures.

According to the Texas Election Code, voters must meet key requirements when registering:

  • Documentation delivery is via mail, fax or personal delivery
  • Documentation must be “in writing and signed by the applicant”

According to The Uniform Electronic Transaction Act, which was adopted by Texas in 2001, if a law requires a signature, “an electronic signature satisfies the law.” The definition of an electronic signature is broad and can mean:

  • An electronic sound
  • Symbol
  • Process

As long as these options are attached to the document being signed, that is enough under the UETA, as long as it can be attributed to the person doing the signing and they intended it to act as a signature. A photo of someone’s signature, then, could arguably be a satisfactory “symbol” under the law.

Additionally, contract law has long accepted electronic signatures, initials and various other methods for creating a binding legal document. It seems as if the law may not even be preventing these online signatures from being valid; it is just a particular interpretation of the law that is standing in the way of Vote.org’s methods.

Complaints abound that Texas voter registration is too complicated

The Houston Chronicle’s article linked above takes a harsh stance on the overall voting process in Texas, stating that Texas has low voter registration and participation due to the Secretary of State’s office making this process difficult and putting up “roadblocks to that participation.” To date, online voter registration is allowed in 38 other states and Washington D.C, making Texas one of only 12 states that require registration via mail or fax.

While every entity here is trying to support the goal of getting residents to vote, the Secretary of State may have their hands tied with outdated or unaccepted laws that are being called to change. In short, everyone is simply doing their job as best they can as they figure out how to embrace technology.

Elections and voting may evolve to be more digital-savvy than ever

Local governments will need representation and advice as technology advances, and their decisions come under fire. We may be seeing more laws come under question as online interactions become the rule, not the exception.