Wonky Wednesday: Voter Registration Forms Processed in 2021

Welcome back to #wonkywednesday.  Each week I do a deep dive into election and registration data in Onondaga County.  Since my time at the Onondaga County Board of Elections I have used statistics not just to analyze voting patterns but how the office has performed as well.  Every now and then those statistics can translate into an interesting topic for the public.  This week I investigate the number of Voter Registration forms processed by the Onondaga County Board of Elections in 2021.

In 2021 the Onondaga County Board of Elections processed an astounding 94,215 registration forms.  We currently track 5 different forms of voting sources.  The largest registration source is the DMV which submitted 60,557 forms to OCBOE either by mail or online via their MYDMV system.  We received another 27,500 forms by mail directly from voters or registration groups.  3,235 forms came over the counter directly handed in to the OCBOE offices during working hours.  1462 voters registered by using affidavit ballots during Early and Election Day voting.  Finally 1461 forms came to us through forms filled out at other Government agencies.

The work at the Onondaga County Board of Elections has dramatically increased since 2016.  Before online registration at the BOE in 2016 registration work was a pretty consistent number of forms per year.  Of course this is why New York for the longest time had one of the lowest registration rates in the country; we made it hard to actually register to vote.  Since 2016 we made it substantially easier in New York to register with online DMV registration and universal transfers when voters move from county to county.  This has resulted in a 500% increase in forms needed to be processed by the Board of Elections.  Whether they are simple address changes, party registration changes, or newly registered voters, the Onondaga County Board of Elections must process them before Election Day each year. 

The lion share of the growth in registration forms lies with the Department of Motor Vehicle submissions.  We have no data before 2013 as DMV forms were delivered by mail and the OCBOE combined them into mail registrations.  In 2013 we started to break out the different categories and we see a steady stream of forms delivered by the DMV.  However in 2016 this changed overnight with Governor Cuomo ordering that electronic changes to driver’s licenses on Mydmv also have the option to update that voter registration role.  Instantly overnight this option became not only the most popular source for registrations, the number of voters updating their voter registration exploded.  No longer were voters waiting till before an election to register, they updated their address as they moved as well as party preferences.  In 2021 the 60,557 forms delivered by DMV nearly tripled the total voter registration forms received from all sources combined in 2015.

The second most common form of voter registration comes through the US mail.  Before 2013 the Onondaga County Board of Election categorized everything that came in the mail as mail source.  This included forms from other government agencies and the Department of Motor Vehicles.  In 2013 we broke out those categories and that accounted for the substantial drop in voter registrations by mail.  In 2018 we saw a large increase in voter registrations from all sources, including mail.  That started to recede in 2019 as voters opted for the online DMV.  However in 2020 and 2021 with the rise of the COVID pandemic more voters choose to avoid crowds and in-person registration events.  This led to a large increase in voters using mailing options to stay home but also change parties and registrations.

Two of the more stable sources of registration have been forms from other government agencies and Registration forms received over the counter at the Board of Elections office.  However we can see both of those sources affected by COVID-19.  With in-person interactions prohibited for much of 2020 OCBOE posted its lowest totals for over the counter registrations in a Presidential year in 2020 and nearly an all-time low in 2021.  Traditional voter registration drives were also not turning in these forms in person, opting for mail in options instead.  We saw similar decreases in agency forms as non-essential government offices were closed and many went to online or telephone only interaction.  This limited the number of forms collected by them and returned to us.

Finally we can see the impact of the drastic uptick in DMV voter registrations in this graph.  Secondarily the increase in recent mail registrations have also added to the burden.  As these two sources grow so does the workload of our office.  This made it a bare necessity to add two data entry clerks this year.  With online and automatic voter registration on the horizon we could see an ever increasing amount of voter registrations in the future.  The big question will be in the future, will this actually reduce the amount of unregistered population eighteen and above?  That may be a subject of a future #wonkywednesday!

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