Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, whose portfolio includes the state elections office, were deservedly proud the other day when the Center for Digital Government named Utah's online voter registration service (vote.utah.gov) as one of the nation's outstanding examples of digital government service to citizens. The state's main online portal (utah.gov) was named the second-best overall government website.
The online voter registration service is not deserving of this honor just because it is easy for citizens to use, though it is simplicity itself for anyone who has any experience dealing with online banking and the like. It is worthy of such honors because it is highly secure.
Registering to vote online in Utah is an option offered to those who already have a Utah driver license, which the vast majority of voting-age Utahns do. Linking to that license database allows the would-be voter to prove with a couple of clicks that he or she already has identifying information, including a real pen-on-paper signature, on file with the state.
That backstop clearly does as much as any old-fashioned paper trail to prevent bogus or duplicate registrations. So the constant resistance of elected officials, in both the executive and legislative branches, to using the same technology for online petitions is an argument that holds no water.
The only difference between online voter registration, which we have, and online petitions, which we don't, is that the petitions are much more likely to actually matter. Those are the processes by which candidates and parties other than establishment Republicans might gain ballot access, and through which state laws might be offered, or repealed, based upon the actual will of the people.
Voting, on the other hand, seems to mean little in a state where flagrant gerrymandering and an exclusionary caucus and convention system keep most people out of the loop. Turnout is woefully low because so few think it matters.
Utah will really be able to take pride in its online services when those services have been expanded to offerings that do not just serve the people, but actually empower them.