A Budgetary Case for Same Day Registration

A new report from a Wisconsin state agency makes clear that Same Day Registration is not just a low-cost way to make voting more accessible. It can even be a budget-saver.

The report from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board dealt a blow to advocates of repealing the state’s Same Day Registration policy. It pegged the cost of such a change as high as $14.5 million. Some of the costs are one-time expenditures, but many will be ongoing.

The report, which tracks with the results of a Demos study conducted last year, is yet another nail in the coffin of arguments against Same Day Registration. After all, the benefits are very clear. The Government Accountability Board found that 10 to 15 percent of Wisconsinites register or update their registration on Election Day. That’s a lot of people who would be turned away or forced to cast their lot with a provisional ballot if not for Same Day Registration.

In fact, as the Wisconsin report shows, Same Day Registration can all but eliminate the need for provisional ballots. Only 135 provisional ballots were cast in the entire state in the 2012 general election, meaning few voters went home with that sick feeling that their vote wouldn’t be counted.

The impact on turnout is also substantial. Studies have found that when voters are allowed to register on Election Day, turnout rises by as much as 7 percentage points.

It’s no wonder that Wisconsin topped Pew’s election performance index for 2008—on the strength of 72.7 percent turnout and fewer problems with registration or absentee ballots than any other state.

Still, opponents of Same Day Registration have found other criticisms. In Montana, state Rep. Ted Washburn is pushing to eliminate Same Day Registration, arguing that it contributes to long lines at the polls. But closer inspection shows that you don’t have to disenfranchise voters to keep the lines short—in 2008, every state that allowed Same Day Registration logged wait times lower than the national average.

Another common refrain? Same Day Registration will lead to voter fraud. Of course, you’re more likely to come across a UFO than a case of voter fraud these days. Investigations have found the practice exceedingly rare. It’s no surprise, because a voter fraud conviction comes with a $10,000 fine and 5 years in prison—enough to keep even the most unscrupulous voter honest.

As the snake-oil arguments against it fall, Same Day Registration is gaining traction with lawmakers and voters who see the value in an engaged electorate. Fifteen states are considering bills that would adopt Same Day Registration. Let’s hope the Wisconsin report will help them see the light.

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