If there’s one lesson we all learned in the last few elections, it’s that their success or failure is dependent on the resources and skills of our local and state-level election officials.
The 2008 elections were commendable in many ways, for example, the 3.4 million more young voters who participated last fall than in 2004. But there are enormous obstacles and cost inefficiencies in our current voter registration system, and these inefficiencies cost taxpayers millions and make it harder for election officials to do their jobs.
WashPIRG’s new report, “Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy,”, shows that in only the 100 counties we surveyed over $33,467,910.00 of public money was spent on simple registration implementation and error-correction issues in 2008. The study was an average aggregate costs survey of small, mid-size, and large counties (in terms of population). For example, areas with average populations, like Grays Harbor County, spend around $250,000 on implementing our out-of-date registration system. In more population dense areas like Los Angeles County the delay in entering massive amounts of registration forms into the database system leads to an expense of over $56,000 in every major countywide election just to mail supplemental voter rosters to poll inspectors overnight. Even in counties with smaller cities, like Thurston County, implementation costs are estimated to be around the $1 million mark.
Election officials from coast to coast have similar stories of being forced to apply inefficient, expensive band-aids in order to effectively administer the registration system
If we modernized our system by creating a more streamlined and automatic system linking existing databases with the state voter rolls we could save significant resources at the local level. Election officials could use their budget for activities that promote our democracy, such as election education, as well as on more effectively administering Election Day.
“Saving Dollars, Saving Democracy” recommends implementing an automatic registration system federally, so that the majority of the cost burden currently facing election officials due to registration could be eliminated.