America’s voter registration system is rife with obsolete entries, as millions of voters who change residence remain on the rolls at their former address. These inaccuracies create numerous challenges for election administrators, costing officials substantial time, effort, and money, and making the voting process more cumbersome for everyone. Automated Verification and Registration (AVR) offers a solution. AVR automatically and electronically updates the registration address of every voter who interacts with the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless the voter declines. The result is more accurate registration lists, reducing costs for election officials and creating a more efficient process for voters.
Far greater numbers of people update address information on their voter registrations through AVR systems than become newly registered to vote. Indeed, the difference in address updates before and after AVR implementation is remarkable, and significantly increases the accuracy of voter registration rolls. For example:
- Oregon has used AVR for two election cycles. In 2017, while 143,000 people registered to vote through AVR, more than 306,000 people had their addresses updated.Oregon Secretary of State, 2017 Oregon Motor Voter Registration, available at http://records.sos.state.or.us/ORSOSWebDrawer/Record/6812999. The numbers were similar in 2018. While AVR added over 150,000 new registrants, nearly 317,000 citizens updated their addresses.Oregon Secretary of State, 2018 Oregon Motor Voter Registration, available at http://records.sos.state.or.us/ORSOSWebDrawer/Record/6813012.
- In Colorado, address updates surpassed new registrations. Approximately 199,000 citizens were registered through the DMV AVR system, while an estimated 476,000 individuals updated their registration information.
- Virginia had 230,000 new registrations at the DMV between July 2017 and July 2018, and more than 1.4 million address updates.Center for Secure and Modern Elections & The Center for Technology and Civil Life, Webinar: Automatic Voter Registration at Motor Vehicle Agencies (July 11, 2019), at 29, available at … Continue reading
Challenges Under Existing Systems
Nearly 28.6 million Americans moved in 2018, roughly 10 percent of the citizen population, and more than 10.2 million citizens moved across state or county lines.U.S. Census Bureau, General Mobility, by Race and Hispanic Origin and Region, and by Sex, Age, Relationship to Householder, Educational Attainment, Marital Status, Nativity, Tenure, and Poverty … Continue reading
Yet while America’s eligible voter population is highly mobile, its voter registration system is largely stagnant. A 2012 Pew study found 12 million voter registration records with incorrect addresses The Pew Center on the States, Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence that America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade (Feb. 2012), at 3-4, available at … Continue reading, and a 2010 analysis by the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project similarly identified four percent of voter registrations as obsolete, generally because of a change of address.See Stephen Ansolabehere & Eitan Hersh, The Quality of Voter Registration Records: A State-by-State Analysis, Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science & Caltech/MIT Voting … Continue reading
Election officials cannot rely on voters to affirmatively cancel obsolete registrations when they move. Indeed, many movers are unaware of the need to update their registrations. According to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a national survey of voter experiences, one in four voters surveyed following the 2008 election assumed that election officials or the Postal Service would automatically update their voter registration following a move.Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient at 7. Even those individuals who do fill out a registration form at their new address are unlikely to systematically cancel previous registrations, creating the possibility of duplicate registration entries. The problem is considerable, with the 2012 Pew study identifying roughly 2.75 million people registered in more than one state.Id. at 5. Although Department of Motor Vehicle offices can provide accurate updates on voter addresses, survey evidence suggests that more than half of voters are unaware of the option to update their voter registrations at the DMV.Id. at 7. Moreover, in many states, voters must affirmatively opt-in to a DMV process that is still paper-based and prone to human error.
These registration errors predictably can lead to problems on Election Day, both for voters and poll workers. With numerous registrants listed at the wrong address or listed at multiple addresses, voters at the polls are directed to different polling sites or forced to cast a provisional ballot. Both of these scenarios make voting harder for individual registrants and exacerbate wait times for other voters. Provisional ballots also require additional time and resources on the part of election officials in order to determine the status of the voter’s ballot, and in many instances end up not counting towards the final vote tally. More generally, inaccurate registration lists lead officials to over or underestimate resources at polling places, alternately wasting resources at overstaffed sites and straining them at understaffed locations.
The cost of inaccurate records extends beyond Election Day. Thousands of election-related mailers, including pre-election notices, sample ballots, and voting materials reach the wrong address or are returned as undeliverable, forcing counties to bear needless costs. In the case of duplicate registrations, multiple mailers are sent unnecessarily, again imposing additional processing, printing, and postage costs on local jurisdictions. If jurisdictions take it upon themselves to correct these issues through list maintenance, lacking complete information on address updates, they must expend additional resources to identify the full universe of potential movers.
The Accuracy Benefits of AVR
AVR largely solves these issues by improving the accuracy of voter registration lists. Under the AVR systems adopted in 21 states and the District of Columbia, unless an individual opts-out, whenever an eligible voter provides a new address at the DMV that citizen’s address is automatically updated in voter registration records.
Address updates through AVR save substantial time, effort, and money while improving accuracy. Unlike paper updates sent via mail, AVR address changes are automatically transmitted to the voter registration database via electronic transfer. AVR continuously ensures that registration lists remain current, even allowing updates to be made close to the registration deadline. In addition, electronic updates via AVR are virtually cost-free once the system is in place. In contrast to paper-based address updates, whether from voters themselves or from the DMV, these updates require no printing, processing, or postage. Moreover, the electronic transfer of information reduces human error and creates an easily audited digital record.
The accuracy provided by AVR makes elections officials’ lives easier and their work more efficient. AVR smooths address updates throughout the year, as individuals interact with the DMV, limiting last-minute registration surges on paper forms. As Multnomah County, Oregon Director of Elections Tim Scott observed following Oregon’s implementation of AVR in January 2016, “Multnomah County has added 80,000 voters at the same time as we’ve reduced temporary staff and overtime that used to input data from paper registration forms.” Similarly, as they prepare for elections, AVR jurisdictions are spared the unnecessary time and expense of sending unnecessary mailers and ballots to obsolete and duplicate registration addresses. Instead, these materials can be directed to the voter’s updated address. Finally, by providing reliable and complete address information, AVR reduces a jurisdiction’s burden to research and identify potential movers as part of the list maintenance process.
AVR also saves costs and reduces confusion on Election Day. Voters cast over 1.8 million provisional ballots in 2018, and approximately 236,000 were rejected due to registration errors.U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) Data, available at https://www.eac.gov/research-and-data/datasets-codebooks-and-surveys/. With AVR, fewer voters are listed in the wrong polling place and forced to cast provisional ballots, decreasing wait times for all voters and saving jurisdictions money. More accurate registration rolls also allow jurisdictions to efficiently distribute resources across polling places, instead of misallocating staff and materials based on outdated totals.
|↑1||Oregon Secretary of State, 2017 Oregon Motor Voter Registration, available at http://records.sos.state.or.us/ORSOSWebDrawer/Record/6812999.|
|↑2||Oregon Secretary of State, 2018 Oregon Motor Voter Registration, available at http://records.sos.state.or.us/ORSOSWebDrawer/Record/6813012.|
|↑3||Center for Secure and Modern Elections & The Center for Technology and Civil Life, Webinar: Automatic Voter Registration at Motor Vehicle Agencies (July 11, 2019), at 29, available at https://modernreg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Automatic-Voter-Registration-at-Motor-Vehicle-Agencies-slides.pdf.|
|↑4||U.S. Census Bureau, General Mobility, by Race and Hispanic Origin and Region, and by Sex, Age, Relationship to Householder, Educational Attainment, Marital Status, Nativity, Tenure, and Poverty Status: 2017 to 2018, available at https://www.census.gov/data/tables/2018/demo/geographic-mobility/cps-2018.html|
|↑5||The Pew Center on the States, Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient: Evidence that America’s Voter Registration System Needs an Upgrade (Feb. 2012), at 3-4, available at https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2012/pewupgradingvoterregistrationpdf.pdf|
|↑6||See Stephen Ansolabehere & Eitan Hersh, The Quality of Voter Registration Records: A State-by-State Analysis, Harvard University Institute for Quantitative Social Science & Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project (July 14, 2010), at 1 available at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/file.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/TUCQQT/ABS4AY&version=2.0.|
|↑7||Inaccurate, Costly, and Inefficient at 7.|
|↑8||Id. at 5.|
|↑9||Id. at 7.|
|↑10||U.S. Election Assistance Commission, 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) Data, available at https://www.eac.gov/research-and-data/datasets-codebooks-and-surveys/.|