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Official Opinion 96-2

Official Opinion 96-2

February 19, 1996
To: 

Director
State Elections Division Office of the Secretary of State

Re: 

Existing law does not authorize the use of voter registration applications which contain an applicant's digitized signature; therefore, express authorization by the General Assembly must be obtained before a system which uses such technology may be implemented.

You request advice on whether any change to existing law is required to use voter registration applications that contain an applicant's digitized, rather than original, signature. As more fully explained below, because current law does not provide for the use of an applicant's digitized signature for voter registration purposes, express statutory authorization by the General Assembly must be obtained before a system which uses such technology may be implemented.

You have provided me with the following facts: Under the voter registration system being utilized by the Department of Public Safety ("DPS") at the time of your request, DPS prints a voter registration application at the same time it prints a driver's license application; DPS then sends the Secretary of State the completed applications for voter registration which contain the applicant's original signature. Further, you state that DPS now plans to implement a "paperless" system for issuing driver's licenses which will use optical imaging technology to

capture an applicant's photograph and signature and merge them with computer data on the applicant in order to generate a driver's license, and that DPS will not have printers required to print voter registration applications. Thus, the Secretary of State and DPS propose that DPS will send an applicant's data and signature image to the Secretary of State electronically, and the Secretary of State will print the voter registration applications using a laser printer and send them to the counties for processing. Based on these facts, it is my understanding that DPS would however obtain separate digitized signatures -- one for driver's license applications, and one for voter registration applications as required by statute.

Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 21-2-220(a), which is part of the statutory scheme on registration of voters, specifically provides that a person who desires to register to vote may make application through DPS, as set forth in O.C.G.A. § 21-2-221. Further, O.C.G.A. § 21-2-219(a) places upon the Secretary of State the responsibility for specifying the form for registration cards to be used by persons applying to register to vote in the State of Georgia and, as to applications made through DPS, O.C.G.A. § 21-2-221(b) provides that the Commissioner of DPS and the Secretary of State "shall agree upon and design such procedures and forms as will be necessary to comply with this Code section." Authority to design forms is not the equivalent of a statutory direction regarding the acceptability of a non-original signature.

Existing law does not expressly authorize the Secretary of State to use digitized signatures for voter registration applications. In comparison, the General Assembly has expressly authorized DPS to use non-original signatures on driver's licenses. See O.C.G.A. § 40-5-28 (DPS shall issue driver's licenses which contain "either a facsimile of the signature of the licensee or a space upon which the licensee shall write his usual signature with a pen and ink"). See also O.C.G.A. § 21-2-215(i) (where the General Assembly expressly contemplated the use of digitization technology for voter registration cards in another context). In the absence of express authority, I conclude that the use of an unauthorized signature would be prohibited by Georgia law.

Given that "[t]he object of the voter registration law is to insure and sustain the integrity of public elections" (Johnson v. Byrd, 263 Ga. 173, 174 (1993) (internal quotation marks and punctuation omitted)), and that existing laws do not expressly authorize the use of voter registration applications which

contain an applicant's digitized signature, it is my official opinion that express authorization by the General Assembly must be obtained before a system which uses such technology may be implemented.

Prepared by:

WILLIAM M. DROZE
Senior Assistant Attorney General