October 23, 2014

GAB reviews report on same day registration costs

State Government Accountability Board staff members say they are continuing work on a report that already estimates it would cost the agency at least $5.2 million to transition away from Election Day voter registration in Wisconsin.

The board received an update on the report at its meeting Tuesday morning, which staff started working on after the November election based on the expectation the issue could come up during the next legislative session. Republican lawmakers have already indicated they may introduce a bill to make the change.

A version of the report presented to board members puts the initial cost of eliminating voter registration at polling places at about $5.2 million for the first year, and about $1 million each following year. Most of those costs are tied to changes in state voter list maintenance, required federal mailings to voters, additional staff training, and other IT upgrades that would be needed.

GAB attorney Mike Haas told board members Tuesday that the report does not include the costs other state agencies would incur. Many other agencies would be required to start registering voters under federal laws Wisconsin is currently exempt from. Department of Motor Vehicles service centers and multiple social services agencies would have to train staff to register voters and implement their own system for tracking and reporting that information to the GAB.

Haas says staff is also working with municipal clerks to get estimates on additional costs they may experience. Of particular concern is an increase in the use of provisional ballots, which he says could end up just shifting resources from registering voters at the polls to handling those instead.

The board heard from several members of the public about whether the state should pursue the change. Election observer Ardis Cerney accused GAB staff of inflating the costs of the changes to derail discussion of the bill. The initial report last week did prompt Governor Scott Walker to scale back his support for the measure, saying he would not sign a bill with that large of a price tag.

The GAB says a final version of the report, which is expected to include state agency and local government cost estimates, could be released by the end of the month.

AUDIO: Andrew Beckett reports (1:04)