22 states and the District of Columbia have implemented or authorized the implementation of automated verification and registration (AVR). Unless registrants decline, AVR automates address updates or registration for eligible citizens based on motor vehicle data. This information is electronically transmitted from state agencies to election officials.
Kansas has not yet adopted automated verification and registration. However, in addition to improving the integrity and accuracy of voter rolls, research shows that AVR would greatly reduce registration and administration costs. In Kansas, we estimate that AVR could save nearly $1 million statewide in each election cycle by eliminating paper-based registrations, reducing undeliverable mail, and decreasing provisional ballots related to registration issues.
Estimated Savings from Implementing AVR in Kansas
|Effect of AVR||Estimated Statewide Savings|
|2018 Election Cycle||2016 Election Cycle||Average Per Cycle|
|Reduced Paper Registration Forms||$871,699.04||$958,424.32||$915,061.68|
|Reduced Undeliverable Mail||$11,213.68||$13,300.84||$12,257.26|
|Reduced Provisional Ballots||$24,012.97||$39,961.97||$31,987.47|
Savings from Eliminating Paper-Based Registrations
Processing paper voter registration applications is labor-intensive and expensive. Among other steps, the process includes data entry, following up with applicants on missing information or errors, and paying overtime and additional temporary staff to process applications in a timely fashion before Election Day.
Previous research shows that these costs are significant, and that there are significant savings from election administration changes that eliminate paper-based forms. For example, after implementing online voter registration (OVR) in 2002, Arizona went from spending at least 83 cents for each paper registration to only 3 cents for each online registration. See Washington Institute of the Study of Ethnicity and Race et al., Online Voter Registration (OLVR) Systems in Arizona and Washington: Evaluating Usage, Public Confidence and Implementation Processes, (2010).
AVR goes even further than OVR, eliminating paper forms not only for individuals who affirmatively register or update their address online, but also for any individual who has their registration updated at the DMV or is verified and enrolled. The potential cost savings are immense, as shown in the following tables estimating the labor costs associated with paper-based registration forms for the State of Kansas and a large, medium, and small population county in the State. We estimate that Kansas counties spent on average more than $900,000 processing paper-based registration forms during the past two election cycles. The costs are large regardless of county size. The State’s largest county could have saved an average of more than $200,000 per election cycle from eliminating paper-based forms, while even smaller counties could have saved tens of thousands of dollars if paper-based forms were reduced or eliminated.
Estimated Labor Cost Paper-Based Registration in Kansas, 2016 & 2018 Election Cycles
|Jurisdiction||Total Registered||Est. Avg. Labor Cost Per Form||Paper Forms Processed||Est. Total Labor Cost|
In this analysis, labor costs rely on 2017 estimates of the average cost of full-time staff processing applications, following up with applicants about missing or erroneous information, and temporary staff processing applications. See Doug Chapin & David Kuennen, The Cost (Savings) of Reform: An Analysis of Local Registration-Related Costs and Potential Savings Through Automatic Voter Registration, March 2017. We estimate these costs for individual counties based on survey data of election officials in large, medium, and small jurisdictions regarding the costs of processing registration applications. Id. Notably, this estimate does not include the costs of printing voter registration forms, mailings related to duplicate registrations, and the postage of forwarding forms to the proper recipient, meaning that our estimate is relatively conservative.
The registration totals are drawn from the EAC’s 2016 and 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) data. We calculate paper-based registrations by considering the total number of forms received in-person, by mail, or through registration drives during the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, according to the EAVS data.
Savings from Reducing Undeliverable Mail
AVR can similarly achieve savings by reducing undeliverable mailings to Kansas voters. AVR will update thousands of voters’ information in advance of ballot mailings, significantly reducing the number returned as undeliverable. Similarly, AVR OVR will ensure that voters are registered with the correct information, as opposed to through paper forms plagued with mistakes and illegible and missing information. These complete electronic registrations prevent initial notices to voters regarding their registration status (“disposition notices”) from being returned as undeliverable.
The following table shows the number of mail ballots and disposition notices returned as undeliverable in Kansas in the 2018 and 2016 elections, statewide. If voter addresses were updated in advance of the election through AVR, these mailings would reach the correct address, and not be returned undeliverable, saving Kansas an average of $12,000 per election cycle.
Estimated Cost of Undeliverable Election Mail in Kansas, 2016 & 2018 Election Cycles
|Election Cycle||Undeliv. Mail Ballots||Cost ($2.12/each)||Undeliv. Disposition Notices||Cost ($0.50/each)||Total|
This data is again drawn from the EAC’s 2016 and 2018 EAVS data. Estimates from other states indicate that the cost of sending a mail ballot is roughly $2.12. See Maricopa County Recorder, Cost of Elections: Online Voter Registration & Provisional Ballots. Similarly, we assume that sending each disposition notice costs $0.50 based on printing, postage and processing costs. Notably, our total cost estimate is fairly conservative, as it does not address other election mailings returned as undeliverable, or mailings that reach the wrong address but are not returned as undeliverable.
Savings from Reducing Provisional Ballots
Processing provisional ballots imposes additional costs on county election officials. Administrators must expend funds on paper forms, signature verification, and labor, both on Election Day to process these ballots and post-election to determine whether they should be counted. According to a 2012 estimate from Maricopa County, Arizona, processing each provisional ballot cost the county $3.89. See Maricopa County Recorder, Cost of Elections: Online Voter Registration & Provisional Ballots. When thousands of voters cast provisional ballots, these costs accumulate quickly.
AVR has the potential to eliminate a significant share of provisional ballots and the associated costs. The table below estimates the number of provisional ballots cast because of registration issues in Kansas in the 2016 and 2018 election cycles. These estimates are drawn from the Election Assistance Commission’s 2016 and 2018 EAVS data. We define registration issues as instances where ballots were rejected because the voter was not registered or registered outside the relevant jurisdiction or precinct. Through AVR, many of these voters would become registered or have their addresses updated to the appropriate jurisdiction or precinct prior to the election, rendering provisional ballots unnecessary. We estimate that Kansas spends more than $30,000 on unnecessary provisional ballots during each election cycle.
Estimated Cost of Provisional Ballots in Kansas, 2016 & 2018 Election Cycles
|Election Cycle||Provisional Ballots w/ Registration Issues||Est. Cost of Reg. Issues ($3.89/ballot)|
Although AVR has short-term implementation costs, they are far outweighed by long-term savings. By eliminating hundreds of thousands of paper forms, reducing undeliverable election mail, and reducing provisional ballots, we estimate that AVR could save Kansas as much as $1 million dollars per election cycle.