Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, February 14, 2014

State board shares student projects with legislators

Two cost-benefit analyses by La Follette School students have been shared with members of the Wisconsin Legislature.

Students prepared the reports for the Government Accountability Board. One project analyzed the impact of adding an online voter registration system to the current paper-based voter registration. The other compared conducting voter list maintenance by sending mass mailings to voters who had not participated in the previous four years versus using the U.S. Postal Service's National Change of Address system to update voter registration records.

"We found these two reports to be particularly helpful as the Legislature considered proposals related to online voter registration and the biennial maintenance of the voter list," says Brian Bell, GAB elections and ethics specialist. He graduated from the La Follette School in 2010 with a Master of Public Affairs degree.

The Government Accountability Board shared the reports with members of the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs, and the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections in February. Professor David Weimer taught the cost-benefit analysis course in fall 2013.

The report on voter registration found that an online voter registration system would likely result in a net benefit for Wisconsin of $1.01 million during the first 10-year period if added to the current paper-based registration process. Those savings do not include the cost of a substantial advertising campaign, which could cost as much as $638,900.

"The group was unable to calculate increased usage of the system due to the advertising campaign, but they noted that the additional usage would increase the net benefit," Bell says. "They also found that local governments would likely realize 70 percent of the savings."

"We are excited to see our hard work has the opportunity to influence policy at the state level," says Steven Kulig, one of the authors. "Our product is a testament to La Follette's strong client partnerships, which give students an opportunity to tackle real-world policy issues."

Kulig wrote the report with Iseul Choi, Josef Dvorak, Katie Lorenze and Amanda Wilmarth.

The voter list maintenance report was written by Dorothy Cheng, Brett Halverson, John Magnino, Daniel Marlin, Matthew Mayeshiba and Mai Choua Thao.

They found that conducting any of the analyzed voter list maintenance options at the local level is cost-prohibitive and thus not a considered viable policy approach, Bell says.

Conducting voter list maintenance using the U.S. Postal Service's system instead of mailing notices to voters who have not participated in four years would likely result in a net benefit for Wisconsin of $582,000 over 10 years, the authors found.

In addition, conducting voter list maintenance using a hybrid of the National Change of Address system and mass mailings to voters who have not participated in four years likely would create a net benefit of $58,000 over 10 years.

"Our entire team was grateful to the GAB for their flexibility and willingness to work with us during the CBA process, especially as we found municipal voter maintenance to be cost prohibitive," Halverson says. "This project was one of the most rewarding experiences of our academic careers, and it is a testament to the strength of La Follette's alumni connections and the trust of government clients like Brian and the GAB."