Op-ed highlighting how Florida can benefit from adopting an Automated Verification and Registration (AVR) voter program.
Florida has 160 citizen legislators in Tallahassee. As in most states, serving in the legislature is typically a part-time job with a modest staff. And yet, state lawmakers are responsible for a variety of critical duties — including ensuring schools are well-funded, roads are safe, infrastructure is modernized, and the criminal code is just. These tasks all require considerable amounts of human and financial resources.
Often, this means the important state responsibility of running elections falls off the agenda.
In the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, which included hacking into the election systems of all 50 states, calls for modernizing and securing elections infrastructure are growing. Reforms are definitely needed, but some states simply can’t afford to buy new voting machines or audit every election. In Florida, where election infrastructure was a top target of Russian election hackers in 2016, inexpensive, easy fixes are in high demand.
Luckily, not all election protection reforms cost money. Automated Verification and Registration (AVR) could actually save Florida money compared to the systems in place today.
Currently, a typical registration works like this: A voter goes to the DMV to get a driver’s license, and while they’re giving the DMV their name, birthday, and address, they also check a box saying they’d like to register to vote. Then the DMV copies down the information and sends it to the department of elections, which re-enters the same information (often by hand) into the voting rolls.
This process tends to be bureaucratic, cumbersome, slow, and prone to human error. A Vote.org study found that each registration cost $3.54 in 2016, and in some states it cost as much as $31.34. Multiplied by hundreds of thousands or millions of voters, those costs add up.
With AVR, the process is much more efficient. A new voter gives their information to the DMV (or another government agency in the course of normal business), and that information is shared with the department of elections electronically. The new voter gets a post card in the mail, which they can send back if they don’t want to register – otherwise, their information is added seamlessly to the rolls via computer. No passing papers back and forth between office buildings, no human error, no delay, no paper pushing.
The savings are significant.
For example, over half a million new voters have registered in Florida since 2017. At the national average cost per registrant, it cost state taxpayers almost $2 million just to process their paperwork. If Florida had adopted AVR — as 20 other states and D.C. have — that money could go to schools, roads, hurricane preparations, or election security instead.
Registration modernization initiatives have had cost saving measures across the country. Implementing AVR cost Washington State about $280,000, but they saved $176,000 in the first two years alone. At the current rate, AVR will pay for itself in four years, with savings continuing thereafter. Maricopa County, Arizona, switched to an automated system and saved the equivalent costs of eight full-time employees. In Delaware, modernization saved over $200,000 the first year it was implemented.
Ask anyone who’s ever served in government: Opportunities to improve service and reduce costs at the same time are rare and precious. AVR is exactly that kind of opportunity. Florida lawmakers should jump at the idea. It’s a no-brainer.
TREY GRAYSON, FLORENCE, KY.
Editor’s note: Grayson is advisory board chair of the Secure Elections Project, former Kentucky secretary of state, and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.