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The Low Cost of Voter Preregistration

Evidence collected from different states suggests implementnig preregistration will usually have no fiscal impact.

 

Pre-registration does not require a new registration database system nor any new software, equipment or personnel. In fact, in many states, pre-registered voters are already put into the voter registration database as “pending” and are transferred to “active” status once they become eligible to vote.

 

In states where voter preregistration has been implemented, the proposed legislation has typically had a fiscal note stating that the bill would have "zero impact" on the state's budget. Moreover, modifications to voter registration information technology systems are typically accomplished through internal staff time and managed within existing resources.

The fiscal notes for the preregistration bills in Washington and Maryland, for example, stated that preregistration would have no fiscal impact for the state Department of Licensing. Indeed, the only costs that could not be managed through the state's current staff and resources were related to determining whether the current election management systems had the capability to hold pending applications for up to two years, and to withhold preregistration records from public inspection and copying.

Some additional changes may need to be made, including revision of registration forms. However, these changes can be strategically managed by election officials, so that implementation is tied to when new forms are scheduled to be printed.

  1. Voter registration cards may need to be updated and existing stock of old cards replaced. Printing cost is tied to implementation date, and a good time to implement is after an election year, as typically cards are replenished then anyway.
  2. Computer programs at the state board and DMV must be updated. At the state board, the coding in statewide voter registration databases must be updated in order to establish a procedure for activating preregistered voters when they become eligible to vote. This is only necessary for the changes involving use of the date-of-birth field.  At the DMV, the software has to be updated to change when staffers offer registration to young persons.
  3. There may be mailing costs for the county. For example, North Carolina practice is to send a letter of acknowledgment to a preregistered young person explaining their status.
  4. School outreach may need to be more frequent. For example, voter registration drives in high schools may be annual instead of biannual. This additional voter education could also be managed in partnership with high schools and local community groups.