The Government Accountability Board collaborated with the LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin – Madison to conduct two cost-benefit analysis (CBA) projects during the fall 2013 semester. We found them particularly helpful as the Legislature considered proposals related to on-line voter registration and the biennial maintenance of the voter list.
Cost–benefit analysis helps to evaluate the desirability of a given policy. It is an analysis of the expected balance of benefits and costs, including an account of foregone alternatives and the status quo. CBA facilitates predicting whether the benefits of a policy outweigh its costs, and by how much relative to other alternatives. Assuming an accurate CBA, implementing the policy alternative with the lowest cost-benefit ratio can maximize economic efficiency. While perfect evaluation of present and future costs and benefits can be quite difficult, it can inform policy decisions from an economic perspective. However CBA does not account for subjective values (e.g., even though a policy option may cost more, it is highly desirable and chosen over lower cost alternatives).
We are pleased to share with you these reports, which are the result of exemplary efforts by these group of outstanding students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s LaFollette School of Public Affairs. Their work, under the guidance of the UW’s faculty, is an excellent example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.
Major findings of the Online Versus Paper-Base Voter Registration CBA report include:
- Online registration would likely result in a net benefit for Wisconsin of $1.01 million over the first 10-year period without including the cost of a substantial advertising campaign.
- Online voter registration would likely result in a net benefit for Wisconsin of $372,000 (net present value, or NPV) over the first 10-year period when including a $638,900 for advertising the new online voter registration system.
- The group was unable to calculate increased usage of the system due to the advertising campaign, but noted that the additional usage would increase the net benefit. Therefore, the study could not determine if the increased usage due to the advertising campaign would offset the cost of the advertising.
Major findings of the Voter List Maintenance CBA report include:
- Conducting any of the analyzed voter list maintenance options at the local level is cost-prohibitive and thus not a considered viable policy approach.
- Conducting voter list maintenance using the NCOA instead of mailing to voters who have not participated in four years would likely result in a net benefit for Wisconsin of $582,000 (NPV) over a 10-year period.
- Conducting voter list maintenance using a hybrid approach of both NCOA and state coordinated mailings to voters who have not participated in four years would likely still create a net benefit of $58,000 (NPV) over a 10-year period.