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.