SALEM — Oregon elections officials this November will see whether the state’s recent efforts to improve its elections process will pay off.
Over the past four years, the state has added tools that may save counties thousands of dollars per election, and the state has streamlined registration to help sign up more voters using a new process to make its voter rolls more accurate.
Ahead of National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, the state sent out reminders to nearly 900,000 potential voters who aren’t yet registered for the general election. That effort was put in place by one of several changes the Legislature and secretary of state made to the election system that clerks have already seen in the last two elections.
Oregon is one of five states that created an online voter registration system in 2010.
The process allows anyone with a state ID or driver’s license to register to vote online. Voters can also update information online.
The process, now used in 20 states with four more on the way, is popular among a wide swath of voters, according to elections experts, and it saves clerks money and the time it takes elections staff to deal with thousands of paper registrations every year.
“Processing an online registration is eight to 10 times faster than processing a paper registration,” said Tim Scott, Multnomah County elections director.
Oregon’s biggest county has processed more than 75,000 registrations, since 2010, according to county data that includes preliminary data through mid-September.
The data also show voters flock to register online in the weeks leading up to general elections.
Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship said her office is benefiting from the online system in the final weeks before the 11:59 p.m. Oct. 14 deadline to register to vote in Oregon.
“If the (online) record is correct, then it may be 30 to 50 seconds to review everything and process it,” Blankenship said. “Versus a card that you may have to cut down to size, stamp the date and where it came from, then you scan it through a scanner and input all the data.”
Oregon has seen 412,000 voters either sign up or update their voter registration online since its system was unveiled in March 2010, according to data from the secretary of state.
Studies by different groups that advocate for modernizing voter registration systems show the online process is more accurate than paper registration. It has the potential to save millions every election in staff and material costs for the paper registration process. It also eliminates steps that could lead to inaccuracies, such as staff misreading handwritten forms.
Oregon doesn’t track the money it saves per election using online registration, said Tony Green, a spokesman for the secretary of state.
The process has worked well for pioneer states like Washington, which in 2008 was the second state to create an online system.
The state saves about $1.25 for all of its nearly 242,000 online registrations it has processed since 2008.
“It’s working very well for us. It’s very popular particularly with the younger voters, who do most of their business online and like the convenience of being able to use their smartphones,” said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for the Washington secretary of state.
This year, Oregon started using the Electronic Registration Information Center to see whether eligible voters still aren’t registered ahead of the Oct. 14 deadline.
The system checks across other state agencies to see whether a voter has updated his address with, say, the Department of Motor Vehicles, but hasn’t yet updated voter registration information. The electronic information system helped member states identify more than 6 million potential voters in 2012 and 2013 alone.
The system sends reports to state elections officials that help identify potential inaccuracies and eventually creates a more accurate voter roll, Green said.
“If someone shows up in both Oregon and Washington, we’ve got to make sure where they belong and make sure that they’re not getting ballots in both states,” Green said. The Electronic Registration Information Center helps with that process.
Just 14 states participate in it. The system is what led Oregon to announce last week that it would send nearly 900,000 reminders to possible voters, potentially bumping up the state’s already above-average registration rate.
Use of the information system also means a potential cost savings for counties.
Scott said Multnomah County pays about 65 cents every time something is returned and is required by state law to be sent out again. Multnomah County has seen its undeliverable mailings drop by about half using the new programs.
“It’s a significant amount of money when you’re talking about 3 percent of 450,000 ballots mailed,” Scott said.
Data from the 2012 election show the seven original states using the Electronic Registration Information Center — Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington — registered an average of 5.4 percent of voters contacted via the system.
The state would see an additional 48,600 voters sign up in the next few weeks if that trend continues.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,