Question 5: Automatic voter registration could be costly to Nevada
October 12, 2018
It sounds like a no-brainer: want more people registered to vote? Have DMV do it.
Afterall, practically everyone eligible to vote has to go through the DMV periodically and they already have the ability to register those who ask.
But county elections officials say there's more than one glitch in this idea — not the least of which is Question 5 would put it in the state constitution.
"If the Legislature implemented this statute, we could change it," said Carson City Clerk Recorder Sue Merriwether. "We could work with them, get it right. But this petition when it was brought to the Legislature, we couldn't make any changes."
“If the Legislature implemented this statute, we could change it. We could work with them, get it right. But this petition when it was brought to the Legislature, we couldn’t make any changes.”
— Sue MerriwetherCarson City clerk recorder
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Under the state constitution, no one can make changes to a voter-approved statute for a full three years after it passes.
She and Elections Deputy and Clerk-Elect Aubrey Rowlatt say there are a number of things advocates didn't take into consideration including what implementing an automatic voter registration program would cost.
The answer to that question is plenty.
"We're going to have to hire more staff. We're going to be sending these people sample ballots, absentee ballots, more paper, more voting machines to be prepared for it," said Merriwether adding the cost of this cycle's 60-page sample ballot was "huge."
They told lawmakers during the 2017 session this may increase voter registration in Carson City by 10,000 or more. Merriwether questioned how many of those people would actually vote saying it's easy for people who want to vote to register using existing methods. That includes in person, online, at voter registration drives or at DMV.
Requiring people to register or sign forms saying they don't want to, she said, will artificially inflate voter rolls. Rowlatt said registering should be "a cognizant decision by the person, not an act by the government."
For Carson City alone, the estimate is the statute would require one-time expenses of $186,225 in office equipment, software upgrades and added voting machines in anticipation of more voters. On top of that, they estimated it would cost $61,200 a year for at least one additional staffer, added postage and printing costs, voter registration cards, update cards and sample and absentee ballots.
For the Department of Motor Vehicles, the estimated one-time cost for software upgrades is $60,000. It would cost some $56,000 a year for updated applications for licenses, postage to notify applicants and other needs to meet the new law.
Wayne Thorley, elections deputy to the Secretary of State's office, said what it would cost them depends on how his office, DMV and the county elections officials work out the implementation. He said if DMV sends voter registration information directly to county registrars, there would be no impact to the Secretary of State's office.
"It could bypass our office," he said.
But the more involvement they have in actually processing the DMV registration documents, the higher the cost. If his office had to develop a statewide voter registration database, the estimated cost would be $4.8 million.
But, no matter what scenario is created to implement the statute, Thorley said there will be a financial impact on the counties.
That's because it's the county registrars who will have to actually verify the new voters and enroll them in their system.
For Clark County, the costs are much higher: an estimated $200,000 in programming, voting machine purchases and other one-time costs and up to $500,000 a year in staff, printing, postage and other recurring costs.
"Every citizen should have the opportunity to register and to vote," said Merriwether. "I don't think there are very many people who want to be registered that aren't registered."