By Trey Grayson
As the holidays approach, state lawmakers should be thinking about their families and loved ones—but also about the impending start of the next legislative session. Thousands of state legislators around the country are making their lists of legislative priorities — and checking them twice. Their top agenda item should be implementing Automated Verification and Registration (AVR).
AVR is the perfect policy to begin a legislative session: It addresses a critical issue, it’s an easy policy to implement, it demonstrates responsibility, and it’s bipartisan.
For the first time in American history, elections are a national security issue. Foreign efforts to interfere in American elections are well documented, though most people don’t realize that they started well before the 2016 elections. Now, new adversaries like China, Iran, and North Korea are starting their own campaigns to influence who leads the United States. In some cases, their goal is merely to create confusion, doubt, and chaos in the American political system. They’re trying to use our freedom and openness against us.
State legislators rarely see opportunities to address major national security problems, but AVR is an exception. By securing and automating voter rolls, AVR makes it harder for foreign adversaries to exploit weaknesses in the electoral system. It also frees up resources, so states can focus on defending our election infrastructure from attacks. Most importantly, it makes election interference harder by strengthening the public’s confidence in the electoral system. Every elected leader in the country should be able to tell their constituents that they have the most secure, modern, and up-to-date election system possible.
AVR gives them that opportunity, and it isn’t difficult to implement. It doesn’t rely on the federal government or Congress. It’s a completely state-based decision that fully embraces federalism. There’s even a state-led system, called the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), that allows states to share information without interference from Washington. This helps prevent multiple-registrations, which could allow people to vote in more than one state in an election.
AVR is also an issue Republicans and Democrats can agree on without getting mired down in partisan squabbling or the national political firestorm. That’s why Republicans and Democrats in 20 states have already adopted AVR.
Implementing AVR requires a one-time expenditure to install the system. Once it’s in place, efficiency, user friendliness, and security can be updated just like apps on a phone. After the initial investment, automation upgrades like AVR save states money very quickly. When Washington State implemented AVR, their initial investment was less than $300,000. Thereafter, they saved an average of $88,000 a year for the first two years, putting the system on track to pay for itself in less than four years.
Other states and municipalities have also experienced the budgetary benefits of voter registration automation. Delaware, for example, saved over $200,000 in their first year with an automated system, while Maricopa County, Arizona, saved the budget equivalent of eight full-time employees after implementing automation. Those salaries can now be put to election security and other municipal services, rather than data entry. Using an automated system to handle data minimizes human error, while allowing state and municipal employees to focus on the jobs we need government for, like protecting against cyber-attacks or other threats to free and fair elections.
State lawmakers have plenty of issues to face that will require hard fights and lots of partisan politics, from guns to healthcare to taxes and education. But there will be plenty of time in the coming legislative sessions for those fights. Starting with a common-sense, consensus reform like AVR can set the tone for cooperation and productivity.
Trey Grayson, a Republican, is advisory board chair of the Secure Elections Project, former Kentucky secretary of state, and former president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.