Same Day Registration (SDR) (also known as Election Day Registration) states have historically led the nation in voter turnout, with average turnout rates 10 to 12 percentage points higher than non-SDR states. In the high-turnout 2008 presidential election, SDR states led the nation in turnout by 7 percentage points and by nearly 6 percentage points in the 2010 midterm elections.

While the benefits to voter turnout are well-documented, information on the cost of administering SDR is less readily available. Dēmos therefore conducted a telephone and email survey of county election officials in Iowa and North Carolina over a seven month period in 2011-2012 to collect specific cost data associated with Same Day Registration. Information was also gathered on provisional balloting, an issue that is commonly raised in policy debates about Same Day Registration.

Same Day Registration in Iowa and North Carolina

Iowa and North Carolina both enacted Same Day Registration in 2007. Iowa voters may register to vote and cast a ballot at their home precincts on Election Day. SDR is only available in North Carolina during the state’s early voting period (third Thursday before an election until the Saturday prior to Election Day) at the offices of county elections officials and at satellite early voting sites (“one-stop sites”). With SDR in effect, both Iowa and North Carolina saw a tremendous increase in voter participation in the November 2008 presidential election. North Carolina reported the greatest increase in voting among all states since the 2004 presidential election. Almost 253,000 citizens were able to use SDR to cast a ballot. In Iowa, nearly 46,000 citizens used SDR to vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Key Findings

  • A large majority of respondent counties in Iowa reported little to no additional costs associated with Same Day Registration. Most did not require additional staffing at the polls. Any new expenses were generally associated with additional printing and mailing of SDR related forms.
  • North Carolina respondents most frequently cited additional staffing at one-stop sites as the most notable cost associated with Same Day Registration. This need tended to increase among smaller-sized counties.
  • The increased expenses cited in North Carolina may not be entirely attributable to Same Day Registration. Most counties that reported adding staff for SDR were unable to disaggregate Same Day Registration costs from overall early voting expenses. Many county officials surveyed in both states do not report itemized election costs.