Around $326 a Vote – Was New Georgia Project the Best Bang for the Buck?

“I cannot imagine having delivered a better outcome given our objective,” House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams told the AJC in a new interview on the New Georgia Project, the voter registration group she established in late 2013. The objective? Registering 120,000 new minority Georgian voters before the 2014 midterm elections. The outcome? Not even close.

Her group succeeded in bringing in a massive amount of funding – estimates range between $3 and $4 million – but failed to reach their registration goal. Abrams and her organization wouldn’t tell the AJC how many of the 86,000 forms they claimed to have turned in actually resulted in successful registrations, stating the number was somehow, incredibly, “not within [their] scope of responsibility.”

While the NGP wouldn’t share their actual registered voter count with the AJC, Max Blau at Creative Loafing found that Abrams was more forthcoming in a speech before the American Constitution Society. She claimed that 46,000 NGP applicants actually made it to the voter rolls. Assuming that a similar number of the oft-cited partner group registration applications made it to the rolls, even combining their efforts with NGP’s direct efforts would result in around 67,400 sucessfully registered voters. That’s a bit over half the original goal.

Abrams didn’t share how many of these individuals actually voted (a number known by organizations with access to the voter file), but noted that turnout from those registered through similar efforts is typically 20%. This means that if NGP was as efficient as the average registration group, the organization with an estimated budget from 36% to 48% of Jason Carter’s entire gubernatorial campaign directly turned out just 9,200 new voters to the polls.

9,200. That means that at a charitable estimate of a $3 million NGP budget, each actual new vote cost over $326. This is dramatically higher than nationwide estimates: one recently published academic paper in The Journal of Politics states that “a dedicated registration drive would cost roughly $60 per vote.” It appears that NGP managed to be nearly 5.5 times less efficient than typical efforts. This massive cost discrepancy makes it all the more frustrating that NGP won’t disclose details of where this money went. Registering underrepresented minority voters is a noble and necessary goal, but donors and supporters deserve to know that their money is being spent as efficiently as possible.

The results of the New Georgia Project are even more painful when put into context alongside missed opportunities for Democratic pickups in the State House. Of the four Republican/independent-held districts where President Barack Obama won more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, only three even had a Democrat on the ballot in 2014. The Democrats were massively outspent in two races, with questionable spending reported by the Dem challenger in the third. Rep. Mike Cheokas outspent his Democratic challenger’s $4,036 by over 34 times – and still only won by 518 votes. In a 56% Obama district, challenger Ezekiel Holley spent just $2,655 (primarily on yard signs, with the rest of the cash going to gas money and t-shirts) to his opponent’s $18,179. Fundraising efforts of just a few percent of the NGP budget could have helped even the odds in these races.

Had House leaders’ time been spent in these districts on fundraising, candidate development, and candidate recruitment, perhaps Dems would have had a better shot at bolstering their numbers in the General Assembly. Considering that the Abrams-opposed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment passed by just two votes in the House, effective leadership focused on building and strengthening the House Democratic Caucus could have made a much bigger difference.

Just 9,200 new actual voters – .35% of total 2014 votes – while spending over 5 times as much as the average registration drive. That’s the outcome that Leader Abrams said she was “deeply pleased” by. Optimism is admirable and important, but to move forward from a tough 2014 election cycle, Democrats need to be ready to admit when we fall short of our goals and make the changes necessary to keep it from happening again.