21 states have implemented or authorized the implementation of automatic or automated voter registration (AVR). Unless registrants decline, AVR automatically registers or updates addresses for eligible citizens based on motor vehicle or other government data. This information is electronically transmitted from state agencies to election officials.
Oklahoma does not yet allow automatic voter registration. However, in addition to improving the integrity and accuracy of voter rolls, research shows that AVR would greatly reduce registration and election administration costs. In Oklahoma, we estimate that AVR could save nearly $1.4 million statewide in each election cycle by eliminating paper-based registrations and decreasing provisional ballots related to registration issues.
Estimated Savings from Implementing AVR in Oklahoma, 2018 Election Cycle
|Effect of AVR||Estimated Statewide Savings|
|Eliminated Paper-Based Registrations||$1,348,546.48|
|Reduced Provisional Ballots||$12,646.39|
Savings from Eliminating Paper-Based Registrations
Processing paper voter registration forms 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.
Research shows that these costs are significant, and that there are significant savings from election administration changes that reduce paper-based forms. For example, after implementing online voter registration (OVR) in 2002, Arizona went from spending more than 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, replacing thousands more paper forms filed by mail or in-person, or submitted by registration drives or at agencies required to conduct voter registration. When people’s registration records are updated securely and electronically through an automated process at the DMV or other government agency, a subsequent paper form to register or update becomes unnecessary. The potential cost savings of AVR are significant, as shown in the following table estimating the labor costs associated with paper-based registration and update forms for the State of Oklahoma and three large, medium, and small counties in the State. We estimate that Oklahoma counties spent nearly $1.35 million dollars on processing paper-based registration forms during the 2018 election cycle alone. The costs are significant regardless of county size. The State’s largest counties could have saved more than $170,000 from eliminating paper-based forms, while even smaller counties could have saved thousands of dollars if paper-based forms were reduced or eliminated.
Estimated Labor Cost of Paper-Based Registration in Oklahoma, 2018 Election Cycle
|County Name||Total Registered||Paper-based forms processed||Est. Avg. Labor Cost per Form||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 Election Assistance Commission’s 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) data. We calculate paper-based registrations by considering the total number of registration and update forms received during the 2018 election cycle and subtracting forms reported as submitted via the Internet and at motor vehicle offices (which are in the process of transitioning to electronic transfer of forms).
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 hundreds 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 Oklahoma in 2018, as well as the figures in the three counties with the largest number of provisional ballots. These estimates are drawn from the EAC’s 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) data. We first calculated the share of provisional ballots rejected due to registration issues, defined as instances where ballots were rejected because the voter was not registered, registered outside the jurisdiction, or registered outside the precinct. We then applied this percentage to the total number of provisional ballots cast in order to account for counted provisional ballots that were cast due to registration issues. Under AVR, the vast majority of voters casting these provisional ballots would have become registered or had their addresses updated to the appropriate jurisdiction or precinct, rendering unnecessary thousands of provisional ballots. We estimate that the State spent more than $12,000 on unnecessary provisional ballots during the 2018 election cycle.
Estimated Cost of Provisional Ballots in Oklahoma, 2018 Election Cycle
|County||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 paper registration forms and provisional ballots through AVR, we estimate that Oklahoma could save nearly $1.4 million dollars per election cycle.