Expert Commentary

The real cost of voter registration in the United States

2009 study by the Pew Center of the States on expenses incurred at the state and county levels in Oregon during the 2008 election.

Until the early 1990s, voter registration in the U.S. was managed primarily by local jurisdictions. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 — intended to improve registration efficiency and fairness — shifted some responsibilities to the states.

To better inform future changes, in 2009 the Pew Center of the States examined voter registration costs for Oregon, which uses a paper-based system. “The Real Cost of Voter Registration” estimates the expenses at the state and county levels during the 2008 election, and suggests opportunities for improvement.

The study’s findings include:

  • For the 2008 election, the costs for voter registration by the state of Oregon totaled $9.7 million.
  • The cost per active registered voter (individuals who have either voted or updated their registration during the past five years) was $4.51.
  • The cost per voter transaction (adding new or updating existing records) was $8.43.
  • The cost per active voter is lower in the most populous counties ($2.78) compared to the least populous counties ($4.28), indicating economies of scale.

While these costs theoretically reflect improvements in process and technology — the National Voter Registration Act allows eligible voters to sign up when renewing drivers licenses, for example — the study indicates that there is considerable potential for more cost-effective solutions. For example, Canada’s 2008 federal election cost a total of $6.4 million in Canadian dollars, which is the equivalent of approximately 26 U.S. cents per voter.

Tags: technology

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