Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy

Following the historic 2008 election, one lesson has been well learned: 

The success of any election is utterly dependent on the resources and skills of our local and state-level election officials.

The practices of local election administrators ultimately determine who is registered to vote and who is not, come Election Day. Election administrators are responsible for making the statutory requirement of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) a reality in their county. They deal with the local-level hurdles, funding issues, and challenges inherent in attempting to register eligible citizens in their jurisdiction.

Officials accept the registration forms from public assistance agencies and Departments of Motor Vehicles, they administer data entry when third party groups and the Republican and Democratic parties submit forms, and they are responsible for sending accurate voter information to the state database.

The strong turnout of 2008 was only possible because millions of new voters were added to the rolls. This surge in voter registration occurred both as a result of extraordinary registration efforts by partisan campaigns, independent
expenditure groups and non-partisan organizations, and because of the diligence of local officials in data-entering their information.

While there is much to celebrate in the expanded participation of traditionally underrepresented groups – for example, 3.4 million more young voters than the previous election – it is also important to recognize the enormous obstacles and cost inefficiencies that occur in our current registration system. 

U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s survey of 100 counties showed that over $33,467,910.00 of public money was spent on simple registration implementation and error-correction issues in 2008. 

That boils down to more than $86,977.00 of the elections budgets in counties with populations under 50,000. The average office in counties with 50,000 to 200,000 people spent $248,091.00. The average county elections office in
jurisdictions of 200,000 to around one million people spent $1,079,610.00. 


U.S.PIRG Education Fund finds that a more streamlined and automatic system linking existing databases with the state voter rolls could free up significant resources at the local level.  Thanks to the Help America Vote Act, we have already seen technological change in the initial creation of the mandated state database voter rolls.  By creating a more automatic system, the majority of the cost burden currently facing election officials due to registration could be eliminated.

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