Introduction
Twenty states and the District of Columbia 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.

Missouri 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 administration costs. In Missouri, we estimate that AVR could save nearly $10 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 Missouri, 2016 Election Cycle

Effect of AVR Estimated Statewide Savings
Eliminated Paper-Based Registrations $9,949,887.44
Reduced Provisional Ballots $20,181.32
Total $9,970,068.76


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. [1]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 … Continue reading

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 is automatically enrolled or has their registration updated via an AVR agency. The potential cost savings are immense, as shown in the following table estimating the labor costs associated with paper-based registration forms for the State of Missouri and three large, medium, and small counties in the State. We estimate that Missouri counties spent nearly $10 million dollars on processing paper-based registration forms during the 2016 election cycle. The costs are large regardless of county size. The State’s largest county could have saved more than $1 million 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 Missouri, 2016 Election Cycle

County Name Total Registered Paper-based forms processed Est. Avg. Labor Cost per Form Est. Total Labor Cost
St. Louis County 767,843 306,627 $3.45 $1,057,863.15
St. Charles 275,928 126,326 $3.45 $435,824.70
Jackson 256,341 140,716 $3.45 $485,470.20
Newton 40,109 17,399 $5.91 $102,828.09
Lincoln 36,589 15,549 $5.91 $91,894.59
Johnson 32,462 17,147 $5.91 $101,338.77
Dunklin 17,363 9,305 $5.33 $49,595.65
Texas 16,561 6,333 $5.33 $33,754.89
Ray 16,512 8,603 $5.33 $45,853.99
Statewide 4,215,860 2,108,027 $4.72 $9,949,887.44

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. [2]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, … Continue reading 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 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) data. We calculate paper-based registrations by considering the total number of forms received during the 2016 election cycle and subtracting forms reported as submitted via the Internet.


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. [3]See Maricopa County Recorder, Cost of Elections: Online Voter Registration & Provisional Ballots, https://recorder.maricopa.gov/voteroutreach/pdf/english/Cost%20of%20 Elections%20 … Continue reading 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 Missouri in 2016, as well as the figures in the five counties with the largest number of provisional ballots. These estimates are drawn from the Election Assistance Commission’s 2016 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 likely 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 $20,000 on unnecessary provisional during the 2016 election cycle.


Estimated Cost of Provisional Ballots in Missouri, 2016 Election Cycle

County/City Provisional Ballots w/ Registration Issues Est. Cost of Reg. Issues ($3.89/ballot)
St. Louis County 1,019 $3,963.91
St. Louis City 624 $2,427.36
Kansas City 528 $2,053.92
Clay County 566 $2,201.74
Jefferson County 452 $1,758.28
Statewide 5,188 $20,181.32


Conclusion
Although AVR has short-term implementation costs, they are far outweighed by long-term savings. By eliminating paper registration forms through AVR, we estimate that Missouri could save nearly $10 million dollars per election cycle. Similarly, by updating registrations and address information in advance of elections, AVR can reduce provisional ballots tied to out of date addresses, potentially saving an additional $20,000 each cycle.

References

1 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), https://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2010/onlinevoterreg pdf.pdf.
2 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, https://www.vote.org/wp-content/uploads/registration-related-costs_030817.pdf
3 See Maricopa County Recorder, Cost of Elections: Online Voter Registration & Provisional Ballots, https://recorder.maricopa.gov/voteroutreach/pdf/english/Cost%20of%20 Elections%20 Online%20VR%20and%20Provisionals.pdf.