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Improving State Voter Registration Databases: Final Report
Technology renewal and refresh. Given the rapidity with which information technology evolves, voter registration systems will inevitably have to migrate to new platforms, because the cost of maintaining an existing platform will eventually exceed the cost of migrating to a more modern one.
As for the magnitude of the funding streams required, one study places the total cost of ownership of personal computers in a work environment at more than five times the acquisition cost,1 suggesting that as much as 80 percent of the initial system procurement cost must be budgeted every year to support nonprocurement expenses not related to data cleanup. Even if the use of more powerful computers and platforms (e.g., virtualized computers) could reduce the total cost of ownership to only twice the acquisition cost (unlikely), it only reduces the annual nonprocurement expenses to 50 percent of the initial procurement cost.
These costs do not account for data cleaning, which would add significantly to the total cost of operating the VRD system over time. (Cleaning data to facilitate comparisons with other databases is an essential component of database management. For example, addresses may need to be standardized if jurisdictions are to qualify for certain lower postage rates in their communications with voters—address standardization services are available but are not currently being offered for free. Other kinds of data cleanup may require communicating with individual voters, and so U.S. mail postage is likely to be a significant component of data cleanup expenses.)
In short, funding for VRD support will require—every year—a significant fraction of the sums spent for the acquisition of VRDs.
The above comments refer primarily to long-term sustainability of existing VRD systems. To implement many of the improvements described in the section on longer-term actions, additional funding may well be required. In some cases, such improvements will require a time-delimited investment associated with initial acquisition and deployment and a smaller stream of funding afterward; in other cases, they will require additional funding on a continuing basis as operating expenses. It is also possible that different kinds of spending will entail different political processes, as budget accounts for computer and system acquisition may well be separate from budget accounts for cleaning election-related data.