Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Silver Bullet: The Executive Order That Would Save Lots of Money, and Improve Efficiency and Performance Too

What if I told you the Governor, with a stroke of a pen, could help a major section of the government save money, and improve efficiency and performance? And what if I told you that all of this is related to elections and would also result in the registration of tens of thousands of more citizens?

It's not too good to be true. A report I co-authored detailing what the Governor-elect can do unilaterally (i.e., without the legislature) to improve the efficiency of state government and administration received some press today. Much of the media focus has been on matters related to the budget and openness, but I'd like to focus a really big change that the Governor can make to the way we run elections. It really would save the state and localities millions of dollars, while at the same time dramatically increase the numbers of registered New Yorkers.

What is this silver bullet? Automation of the State's registration programs.

New York's registration system is a mess. It's costly, inefficient, and year after year, New York leads the country in complaints from people who try to vote, but for some reason don't show up on the voter rolls. Many people know that New York ranked dead last among states this past election in voter participation -- that is, the percentage of eligible citizens who voted was lower than anywhere else. A big part of the reason this number was so low is that a very low percentage of eligible citizens are even registered. In fact, New York ranks 45th of 50 States in this category.

Automating the state's registration programs -- which exist by law in places like the DMV, City and State Universities, social service agencies, etc. -- would be a major step toward addressing all of these issues. Every time a citizen interacted with one of these agencies -- to get a new driver's lisence, register for classes, apply for benefits -- voters would be asked if they wanted their information to be used for registration. If they said yes, their information in the statewide voter registration database would be automatically updated.

There is a wave of states that have automated their registration programs in the last couple of years, and all of them report very big savings (hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, annually), more accurate rolls, and many more registered voters. Don't believe it? Read our many extensive studies on the subject here.

As we explain in the Executive Order report, the Governor can make this happen through executive order. It should be a no-brainer.

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