The U.S. State Department says it plans to reopen the...

The U.S. State Department says it plans to reopen the online passport renewal portal to new customers soon. Credit: Newsday

I felt giddy.

I was hunched over a laptop, an expired passport nearby, staring at a confirmation email from the U.S. Department of State.

I had just renewed my passport online. I didn't have to print out or fill out forms with spaces too small to complete. I didn't have to get my picture taken, or stand on line at a post office, or mail documents and the old passport, hoping everything would get where it was supposed to go.

After creating a new online ID, answering some questions, taking a photo with my phone against a white background, and paying the fee — boom. In came the confirmation email. And that giddy feeling.

The online opportunity came via a State Department pilot program, which ended last month. But the department says it plans to reopen the online portal to new customers soon.

Passport renewal is just the latest government function to finally shift toward becoming fully electronic. President Joe Biden sought to bring more government services online through an executive order he signed last year. Beyond passports, the executive order attempted to widen opportunities to file tax returns electronically, apply for certain federal permits and disaster assistance, enroll in food stamps and spend them through online grocery ordering, and do far more with other federal agencies online.

In New York, too, state and local agencies have attempted to bring some government functions into the 21st century. New Yorkers can renew their car registrations online and, in limited cases, can even renew their driver's licenses. The best part of that process? The first question — which asks whether you want to register to vote or update your party enrollment.

That question illustrates the next holy grail of online government services — allowing residents to tick off more than one box at once. If I'm renewing my passport, do I also want to enroll in TSA Precheck? If I'm applying for Social Security, are there other applications I should think about, too?

Much of this seems intuitive, or should've been done years ago. But there are still far too many tasks that unnecessarily require printed forms and stamps and envelopes and even visits to offices with ridiculously long waits. Renewing a driver's license online, especially for younger drivers, should be the norm, though an in-person eye check still should be required. Too many municipalities still require in-person building permit applications and other unnecessary visits to town or village hall. In New York City, you can't even get a copy of your marriage license without printing out a form and mailing it.

Perhaps the government function most behind the times is jury duty, which still relies on mailed summonses, a telephone standby system, and hours upon hours of waiting in a courthouse, just to be called for a potential voir dire. More people likely would be willing and able to serve on a jury if the time commitment narrowed, if they were able to "wait" virtually and perhaps even complete the first round of questioning online, so that when a possible juror arrived, it was time to serve, rather than read a book.

None of this should preclude the availability of in-person, by-mail, and by-phone alternatives. After all, far too many Americans still don't have reliable, constant internet access and they need an easier path, too.

Getting more of us online — and off the lines — would be a good start.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.