As I wrote yesterday, 2010 has been a rough year for voting-rights advocates. Under the guise of fighting voter fraud, Republicans have exploited their new legislative majorities in the states to pass a slew of bills that will restrict access to the ballot.

But with all the doom and gloom, there are bright spots. Late last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will allow residents of the state to register to vote online. “The registration process is the biggest barrier for young Americans participating in our political process," Rock the Vote president Heather Smith said in a statement, "and too many are left out of the process because of outdated and restrictive voter registration practices."

I spoke with Eric Marshall of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights' for my print piece last month. In normal years, his group would be pushing state legislatures to update their voting systems and help increase turnout. "There's a broad concept that we support called voter-registration modernization," he said. "Basically it's the realization that our antiquated, cumbersome, paper-based system of elections is the single largest cause of voter problems and voter disenfranchisement right now."

This year though, Marshall's organization, like many voting advocates, has needed to recalibrate, turning its focus away from reforms to playing on the defensive just to keep the status quo. "It's going to be important that nonpartisan organizations work together to get voters their required IDs," Marshall said. Voter turnout in the United States is abysmal during presidential elections and even lower for midterms. The methods by which we allow people to register feels straight out of another era, when people moved less frequently and going to the DMV was the only option. If you can file your tax returns online in 2011, there's no reason you shouldn't be able to sign up to vote on your iPhone.

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