There are a lot of reasons to be worried about democracy in this country and state:
■ Not many registered voters bother to go to the polls. In last year's general election, headlined by the hard-fought U.S. Senate race, 28.4 percent of Kentucky voters participated.
■ A lot of people are disenfranchised due to felony convictions. In Kentucky about 180,000 people who have completed their sentences still cannot vote. They are disproportionately black, about 20 percent of African-Americans of voting age are not allowed to vote.
■ Even among those qualified in Kentucky, over 30 percent have not registered to vote.
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■ Young people register and vote at a lower rate than older groups.
You'd think that, for the health of democracy, lawmakers and other leaders would jump at any legitimate, cost-effective measure to improve participation. Fortunately, for the most part that's been true as Kentucky's inched its way toward online voter registration.
The bipartisan State Board of Elections unanimously endorsed proposed regulations for online registration, and last week the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee endorsed the them, despite the objections of one legislator. The next and, we hope, final step will be before the General Assembly's State Government Committee, which will consider the change on August 26. If that body gives its approval, online registration could be in effect within a few months.
Kentucky will then join the 21 states that already have online registration and the six others where it has been approved but not yet implemented.
Since Arizona initiated online registration in 2002, states have found that it saves money, reduces errors and duplications and is an effective way to encourage registration among young people.
The elections board projects it will cost about $45,000 to set up secure online registration and train county clerks. The federal Help America Vote Act Fund would underwrite that cost while Kentucky would benefit from the $100,000 a year in estimated savings.
Arizona figures it costs the state three cents for an online registration compared to 83 cents per paper registration.
Even more valuable is the gain in accuracy. Currently, a potential voter fills out a form by hand and it's manually entered into the system. Online information will be entered by the voter and then cross-referenced with driver's license records at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
That eliminates mistakes that arise from incorrectly deciphering handwriting and transcription errors. So far there have been no fraud or security breaches reported by states with online registration.
Online registration will not miraculously transform our democracy. But it's one smart, cost-effective way to make it possible for more people to participate and should be approved and implemented soon.