HARRISBURG -- Citizens in almost half the states can sign up to vote the same way they buy music, order pizza or do their banking.
While online voter registration has failed in Pennsylvania, three lawmakers are vowing to try again this year.
Twenty-four states either have online voter registration or are in the process of adding it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The idea has spread because it often enjoys bipartisan support, said Katy Owens Hubler, an election policy specialist for the group. In legislatures beset by gridlock, she noted, politicians often look for ideas that are unanimously popular so they can accomplish something.
State Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster County, said electronic registration increases participation in elections and save money. Smucker wrote a bill allowing online registration that passed the state Senate in 2013 but stalled in the House.
An analysis of Smucker's bill said it would mean spending $300,000 to upgrade state computer systems.
But it reduces costs over the long term, according to the legislators group. Officials in Arizona, the first state to offer online registration, estimate it costs 3 cents to handle an online form compared to 83 cents for paper registration.
The change proves especially effective at enrolling younger voters, studies have found. Registration among 18 to 24 year-olds rose from 28 to 53 percent after Arizona introduced online and automated registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County, chairman of the House State Government Committee where Smucker's bill died, said it wasn't a priority in the last legislative session, but conversations have begun about its revival.
Smucker is seeking support for his bill. In the state House, two lawmakers Rep. Dan Deasy, D-Allegheny County, and Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery County, have also indicated they are seeking support for identical measures.
A spokesman for Gov.-Elect Tom Wolf said he supports the effort to offer online voter registration.
Metcalfe said he would like to consider tying electronic registration to a ban on third-party voter registration. He noted cases where people connected to outside groups have collected registration forms but dumped some of them instead of forwarding them to the state.
If the state allows online voter registration, he said, there may not be a need for outside groups to conduct registration drives.
In most states, the only controversy around electronic registration has focused on security questions, Owens Hubler said. States address those concerns using encryption technology, data logs to identify suspicious activity and other cyber-security tools, she said.
Such efforts may prove self-defeating, said Robert Popper, an attorney with Judicial Watch, the conservative group that has championed voter ID laws.
Security protections could make the registration process more difficult, he said, trying the patience of those who seek an easier alternative to filling out paperwork.
“I don’t think a system has been invented,” that can protect against fraud and is easy to use, he said.