Election Officials Consider Upgrades to Registration System

July 14, 2010

Summer conference season is upon us. Every summer (even in election years), our nation’s busy election officials take a “break” from the day-to-day business of running elections and get together to share information and discuss how to improve election administration. Last week, the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials, and Treasurers (IACREOT) held its annual conference and trade show in Chicago, Illinois. This weekend, the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) will convene for their summer conference in Providence, Rhode Island. A consistent point of discussion among state election officials at gatherings like these has been how to save money yet improve the voter registration system.

The economic climate has not been kind to state budgets, and officials at the state-level are more pressed than ever to reduce costs without sacrificing election administration quality and integrity. Voter Registration in a Digital Age, a new Brennan Center report released yesterday, explains how a number states have achieved such a crucial balance.

Based on documentary research and interviews with election officials in fifteen states, the ground-breaking report is the first in-depth survey of two key voter registration modernization reforms at the state level: “automated” voter registration, in which government offices such as DMVs collect and transfer voter registrations electronically, and online voter registration, in which citizens submit voter registration applications over the Internet.

Christopher Ponoroff, the author of the study, finds that as states modernize their voter registration process, they save significantly. For example, Delaware’s paperless voter registration at DMVs saves election officials more than $200,000 annually on personnel costs, above the savings they reaped by partially automating the process in the mid-1990s. And officials anticipate further savings.

As states reap substantial cost benefits, they are also improving their voter registration systems. Upon modernizing their systems, states discover that paperless registration is more accurate and reliable than paper forms. In fact, a 2009 survey of incomplete and incorrect registrations in Maricopa County, Arizona found that electronic voter registrations are as much as five times less error-prone than their paper-based counterparts.

And to complete the modernization benefits trifecta, states also see an increase in registration rates once they have implemented these reforms. After Arizona introduced online and automated registration, rates among 18-24 year-old citizens rose from 28 to 53 percent.

Wendy Weiser, Director of the Voting Rights and Elections program and editor of the report, presented these findings at IACREOT and will do the same at NASS next week. Many states have already reaped the benefits of modernization, reducing costs and improving their voter registration systems. Our hope is that other election administrators will use this as an opportunity to assess their own systems and see how they, too, can improve their voter registration system while saving money.

To read more about our work on Voter Registration Modernization, please visit these resources:
Voter Registration Modernization Homepage
Voter Registration Modernization: Collected Reports and Papers
Various publications on Voter Registration Modernization