Our voter registration system is a disaster, and I have the scars to prove it. I spent eight years in the partisan cross hairs of election administration while serving as Ohio's chief election official. No element of election administration is more fraught with controversy than how we register voters.
Every year, states spend millions of dollars on an inefficient voter registration system better suited to the 19th century. The system wastes resources at a time when states and local governments are struggling to make ends meet, and it creates a climate in which fraud by third-party voter registration groups such as ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) can undermine the sanctity of our democratic process.
There is a solution. By using technology to make voter registration more automated, we can save money and get rid of those groups that thrive by gaming the voter registration system.
In August, the bipartisan Committee to Modernize Voter Registration announced its formation and commitment to bringing voter registration into the 21st century. Though I disagree with many of the committee members on various policy issues, I agree we should apply American innovation to the inefficiencies of the registration process.
The costs of voter registration are staggering. Between designing and printing millions of paper registration forms, training staff, hiring temporary workers to process forms, mailing materials to invalid or outdated addresses and maintaining the lists over time (among other expenses), voter registration costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every cycle. In 2008 alone, Los Angeles County spent more than $12 million simply to process all of the voter registration forms and maintain its lists, and the state of Oregon spent nearly $3 for each active voter in its files. In Columbus, Ohio, we spent more than $1 million on this outdated process.
What do taxpayers get for all this money? A system rife with errors and the potential for fraud and partisan disputes in which responsibility for guarding the gateway to our democracy is abdicated to unregulated and poorly trained third-party registration groups like ACORN. These groups submitted millions of voter registration forms, but only about one-third of those forms were from new voters. About one-third were from voters who already were on the list, while another third of the forms were either incomplete or fraudulent.