How Paperless Technologies Can Improve Voter Registration Procedures
by Project Vote, Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 06:01:38 PM EDT
Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters
Voter registration modernization is a current buzzword in election circles. The idea is that new information tools can make the process cheaper, better, and easier for voters and officials alike. However, at many election forums, this discussion has tended to overlook modernizing the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the so-called "motor-voter" law.
Hopefully, that is about to change. The NVRA, which is the only federal law requiring states to proactively offer voter registration services, relies on a range of state agencies to help people to register. Overall, it has helped tens of millions of Americans. Yet agencies in many states--particularly public assistance offices—have dropped the ball in recent years. That trend is troubling because millions more Americans would likely register if asked by designated NVRA agencies.
The excuses are not new. Some state agencies do not see voter registration as their job, regardless of the federal mandate. Still others see voter registration as a paper-based process generating too much bureaucratic work.
What is new today is that voter registration services need not follow these antiquated models. Today’s paperless information technology and large-scale data management—including practices pioneered in several states at their motor vehicle offices and online—show many cost-efficient, bureaucracy-cutting and more accurate ways to offer registration services. These savings are striking and should resonate in today’s tough budget times.
These precedents are detailed in a comprehensive new Project Vote report, Voter Registration Modernization and the NVRA, by Steven Rosenfeld. Several state motor vehicle offices are now using software templates, shared databases, data networks and other tools to overcome hurdles associated with implementing the law. Tasks such as training staff, developing registration materials, offering clients opportunities to register, assisting with applications, sending forms to election offices, and tracking results, have all been transformed and simplified.
We would hope state officials would see how notable efficiencies could result from more automated and electronic voter registration systems. There is no reason why every state NVRA agency cannot electronically feed voter registration information to state election offices with the same accuracy and ease as any voter who registers online—including signatures and other information gathered by state employees under oath.
As Rosenfeld says in the report, state under-performance tends to occur in administrative isolation—such as agencies that are unaware that voter file management has been transformed elsewhere in their state. Many of these new information technology systems, for example, have already been successfully used at some state motor vehicle offices, resulting in significant cost savings, reduction of administrative burdens, and increased efficiency and accuracy. But these new systems have not yet made it to public assistance agencies, which have been under-performing or out of compliance in many states. Agency managers need to commit to implementing the law, not because of the threat of litigation—from the Department of Justice or from advocacy groups—but because registration services can be streamlined, more cost-effective, and more accurate.
There is no downside to better voter lists, based on better voter information, obtained under oath by state government employees. Indeed, states do not have to look very far for examples of how to better implement the NVRA. They will even save taxpayers money, while better serving the electorate. Now that is something to talk about.