Automatic voter registration implementation date unclear, elections officials say
Implementing the automatic voter registration ballot question approved by voters last month will have an initial price tag of more than a quarter million dollars, and election officials are unsure when the new system will be in place.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske told lawmakers Tuesday at the state’s Interim Finance Committee that her office, along with the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), was taking preliminary steps to implement the new policies required under Question 5, which passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote in November.
The approved ballot question requires the state to change its voter registration process at the DMV from an opt-in to an opt-out system, meaning people who go in to apply for or renew their driver’s license are automatically registered to vote unless they actively opt out. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C. have enacted similar policies.
But Cegavske, a Republican, said no funding to implement the ballot question has yet been provided by the state and that requesting reserve or contingency funds wouldn’t be possible given that the deadline to do so has already passed.
She told lawmakers that her office would pay $234,000 from another budget account to provide initial funding for three contractors to help oversee implementation and software needed for the project, but that her office would request a reimbursement and possibly more funding from state lawmakers during their normal 120-day legislative session.
Additionally, the DMV is asking for $84,000 this year and $87,000 next year to help pay for the cost to implement the ballot question, including software and postage costs.
But a timeline for implementation is still unknown. The initiative has a January 2018 implementation date, but does not provide any instructions if the measure is approved by voters versus if it is approved by the Legislature — a distinction found in statutory initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana and expanding gun background checks that voters approved in 2016 after the 2015 Legislature failed to take them up.
“I am hesitant to give any sort of estimate or timeframe of any kind at this point,” Deputy Secretary of State for Elections Wayne Thorley said in an interview.
Cegavske told lawmakers that implementation of the ballot question is being directed by a seven-member steering committee, which includes the secretary of state’s office, the DMV, county election officials, governor’s office and Department of Administration. There’s also a 13-member working group comprised of her office, the DMV and several advocacy groups, including the Brennan Center for Justice, which has helped implement similar policies in other states.
Thorley said the seven-member steering committee was hoping to meet before the end of the year, and needed to determine what other costs — such as hardware, software, or permanent staff — would be needed to successfully implement the ballot question.
Initial fiscal estimates for the ballot question ranged from nothing to $4.8 million, depending on how much work is needed to update and integrate voter registration systems between the DMV and county clerks. The cost per county was estimated at about $3,000 for smaller counties to about $40,000 for Clark County.
Backers of the motor-voter initiative raised and spent more than $9.8 million to help pass the measure, with more than $6.2 million coming from a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Sixteen Thirty Fund, which is allowed to raise unlimited funds and not disclose its donors. No organized group opposed the measure.