New Pew Report Chronicles Trends in OVR Nationwide

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[Image courtesy of pewtrusts]

Online voter registration is increasingly in the news, as more and more states enact laws allowing eligible citizens to register or update their records. Too often, though, the discussion of what happens after enactment – when OVR goes from requirement to reality – gets lost in the back-and-forth over the political impact of registration reforms.

That’s why it’s so important that the elections team at The Pew Charitable Trusts has released a new report entitled Online Voter Registration: Trends in development and implementation.

The report, which Pew calls a “brief,” lives up to its name by packing an incredible about of information into 12 pages. Here’s the overview:

States across the country are increasingly adopting online voter registration to reduce costs, enhance government efficiency, and build more complete and accurate voter lists. This expansion has yielded a diverse and growing collection of best practices and problem-solving strategies for electronic systems and their implementation. States continue to improve online registration options for Americans and to see gains well beyond the economic merits.

A recent survey by The Pew Charitable Trusts identifies growing trends and emerging issues in online voter registration. The first part of this brief examines operating procedures, benefits, and innovations, in particular:

• Expanded options for citizens without a driver’s license or state-issued ID.
• Optimization for use by voters on their mobile devices.
• Multilingual services and accessibility features for people with disabilities.
• Integration of systems with local election offices.
• Increased convenience and efficiency for voters and administrators.
• Reliable safeguards for protecting personal information and preventing fraud.

The second section highlights the opportunities and challenges that states are navigating, such as:

• Building effective relationships between motor vehicles agencies and election offices.
• Standardizing data and system interoperability between states and local jurisdictions.
• Collecting and tracking performance data, such as measuring usage trends over time.
• Driving a greater share of the voter registration activity online.
• Reducing election offices’ reliance on paper in certain administrative functions.

The most newsworthy nugget appears to be the section on cost:

Most states reported that development and implementation costs for online registration systems were comparatively minimal. In Pew’s 2014 survey, states cited an average cost of $240,000 to build and implement their systems. In this brief, with several more states reporting, the average cost increased by $9,000 to $249,000. In addition, a few states reported that building costs also included other online upgrades such as look-up tools and ballot request functions. [p.4, citation omitted]

Even better, Pew has released a companion summary chart which compares the states surveyed on a wide variety of issues, which enables cross-state comparisons regarding OVR implementation. Thus, for example, it’s possible to see that all states require a date of birth when using the system but only a little more than half transmit records in real time to local jurisdictions. It also spots exceptions – such as the fact that Connecticut alone does not provide a confirmation screen once a registration is complete.

Needless to say, these products are extremely valuable to the field. Indeed, Pew’s $249,000 average cost is already being cited in Florida as proof that the $1.8 million appropriated in the pending OVR bill is more than enough for implementation.

Thanks as always to Pew’s elections team – especially David Becker, Sam Derheimer, Sean Greene and Julia Brothers – for their work on this report. I look forward to future editions with even more participating states!

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