Facing South

Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

Voter ID.jpgIn 2010, Republicans campaigned on the issues of jobs, taxes and the economy -- and with  states still reeling from scarce jobs and tight budgets, GOP leaders have pledged to keep that focus.

In North Carolina, incoming House Speaker Rep. Thom Tillis (R) opened the 2011 session this week by putting wrist-bands on the desks of every house member that said "Think Jobs" -- the same ones he gave to GOP candidates last fall, with instructions to snap them if they ever wandered off-message.

But as state legislatures have opened for business over the last week, GOP lawmakers have begun not by pushing bills focused on jobs, but for measures that would require citizens to show photo identification while voting -- laws which, among other controversial features, will end up costing states tens of millions of dollars to implement.

GOP leaders have introduced voter ID bills or plan to in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. In Texas -- which faces a budget shortfall of over $10 billion -- Gov. Rick Perry (R) went so far as to declare voter ID a legislative "emergency" to fast-track the bill.

All the bills have sparked controversy. For one, there's scant evidence that voter impersonation at the polls -- the one kind of fraud that ID laws address -- is a big problem. The bills are also viewed by Democrats and voting rights advocates as deeply partisan, given studies that show the elderly, African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and other constituencies are most likely to not have the needed ID cards.

But at a time when states face staggering budget shortfalls, the biggest problem facing voter ID bills may be that states simply can't afford them.

An effective, full-scale voter ID program can easily end up costing state taxpayers $20 million or more -- the three-year price tag officials estimated in 2010 for a program in Missouri. For most states, such a costly program would be a suspect luxury in ordinary times; it's nearly impossible to justify in in today's economic crisis.

Among the costs that cash-strapped states face from voter ID laws:

* VOTER EDUCATION: State officials agree that voter ID laws require major publicity and education efforts to avoid voter confusion and make sure legitimate voters aren't turned away at the polls. In 2010, Missouri estimated it would cost $16.9 million [pdf] for TV, radio and newspaper announcements and other outreach to the state's 4 million voters.

* WHO PAYS FOR I.D.? Studies show that up to 11% of citizens don't have a photo ID. Forcing voters to buy cards has made states the target of lawsuits claiming such costs amount to a modern-day poll tax. To solve the problem, many states now issue free ID cards, but it's expensive: In 2009, Wisconsin (3.5 million voters) projected a total $2.4 million cost [pdf]; Missouri estimated $3.4 million [pdf].

* IMPLEMENTING VOTER ID: Voter ID laws generate dozens of new costs for state and local officials: accommodating longer lines at DMV offices, updating forms and websites, hiring and training staff to handle provisional ballots for those who don't have ID on Election Day. In 2009, Maryland estimated it would cost one county over $95,000 a year [pdf] just to hire and train precinct judges to examine IDs of voters. With local governments already cutting programs and staff to the bone, states will likely need to appropriate millions of dollars each year to help cover these new expenses.

While high, these figures may not even fully capture the full costs of a voter ID program. For years, state leaders have been hiding or low-balling the budget impacts of voter ID measures, presumably to help get them passed amidst bitter partisan controversy.

A Facing South analysis of the fiscal notes, or cost estimates lawmakers are required to submit with proposed bills, in five states* finds that lawmakers routinely failed to budget for essential elements of carrying out a voter ID law, including informing voters, administrative costs, hiring and training staff and other necessary expenses.

In other cases, state budget estimates have noted the expenses, but blithely said they would be "absorbed" by existing state and local agencies. When Georgia signed its amended ID bill into law in 2006, lawmakers infamously didn't even include a fiscal note [pdf] with the bill, even though the state admitted counties would need at least $1 million for equipment alone. In 2009, Texas officials similarly tried to side-step the costs, making the astonishing claim that their program would have "no significant fiscal implication to the State."

Such budgetary sleights-of-hand may have worked in the past, but they're unlikely to be accepted by officials today as they are asked to slash budgets and lay off core staff at every level of government.

In short, the more honest state officials are about what's needed to implement a voter ID program -- and the less they try to push those costs off onto already-struggling agencies -- the higher the price tag.

Given the much bigger problems facing states today, is the GOP's voter ID crusade really something they can afford?

* Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Texas and Wisconsin


People Referenced:


re: Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

Is there any research on the incidence of voter fraud that proponents of Voter ID bills say they're trying to prevent? Is it a real or imagined threat? My guess is imagined with few or no actual incidents. But I have no data either.

re: Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

A poll tax for the new millennia. I would love to have the same UN Election Commission running around verifying the validity of votes cast in our elections. The biggest voter fraud in modern history occurred in the 2000 US Presidential election and a card would have done nothing to prevent that one.

re: Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

Does anyone share my suspician that what appears to be a contradiction is actually a deliberate plan? Think about it, if the ID is required, but can't be obtained because there is an inadequate supply; because the budget was slashed and staff reduced...

I hope I am just overthinking the possibilities, but...

re: Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

I think we can look back as far as 2006 for reports of voter Fraud.

In that year, a TV station in SAN ANTONIO, Texas, purged the county voting records of two preceints around downtown. it uncovered convicted felons who lost their right to vote as having voted, people who had been DEAD for ten years voted, illegal immigrants voted. And when questioned, two went on cam and basically said, yes i voted, so what, its no big deal.

WSB in Atlanta did the same thing and found the same results in the 2008 election. they compared the voter registrar to that of jury imformation where people said they were illegal and could not serve on a jury.

Lets not forget that you had the ACORN scandal in 2008, and in houston, an organization called HOUSTON VOTED submitted 3000 voter cards in one day. and after investigation of the county roles by members of a local tea party they found out things like.... one address had FORTY new registars, and the house at said address was a half way houses. another one had TEN new registrants, which turned out to be an OPEN FIELD

re: Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

Chris I read your article on voter ID and I think you did a good job on putting it together.I wont go point by point on it but there is a lot in it that I don't agree with.Sure there is a cost but is it realy that much?Real true cost can and will cost but it really don't have to cost that much as some people will say it cost.Today if such a person as myself were to be involved the project could be done at a more sensible cost.It does not have to be a high cost nor do it have to be that complex.In my state of Arizona we have had voter IDD for some years now and it cause no major problems to impliment or carry out.

re: Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

Does a photo ID prevent "Voter Fraud" ?

When I say "Voter Fraud", I mean voter impersonation. That is where a "bad guy" goes to a polling place, pretends to be another voter who uses that polling place.

This "bad guy" has to be willing to risk a felony conviction just to impersonate a single voter, thats for 1 vote.

We call that "retail fraud" in the election integrity movement.

If this "bad guy" is willing to risk a felony conviction just to alter one vote, do you really think he/she won't be able to get a fake ID that will do? So much the better for him, because even if the poll worker suspects something, the presentation of a photo ID will override that poll workers suspictions.

Part of what I did for the past 2 years is edit a voting news-letter that covered voting/election problems in the US and also other countries. Over and over the story behind "Voter Fraud!" headlines pertained to the abuse of absentee by mail votes. These articles never found "voter impersonation".

If North Carolina demands a photo ID, then the good honest people who lack photo ID will just go around the system and cast their ballots by mail.

My next door neighbor no longer has a photo ID.
She's a big time Rush Limbaugh fan, and votes republican every time. She's also on a limited income, social security, and watches every penny.

She's also VERY proud, too proud to tell her adult children that she needs $12.00 to get her birth certificate replaced.
She's already lost this document years ago, not needing it much now that she is 80+.

You see, you need documents to get ID documents. She's also too proud to tell her adult children that she doesn't have $10.00 to spare to pay for a new NC Govt issued Photo ID.

She doesn't drive, so she would hesitate to ask her children, or a neighbor, to drive her to the DMV and stay there while she waits for a 1-2 hours in line.

But right now, my neighbor can get a short ride (about 1 mile) to the neighborhood polling place and wait about 5 minutes to vote on election day. (I never wait more than about 5 minutes at our polling place, its in and out and done).

She can also afford that - she just states her name, and poll workers ask her to verify her address, and she signs the authorization form.

People like her will either stop voting or will instead cast their ballot by mail. Absentee ballots go through a set of hurdles in order to be counted. Not all get approved, sometimes because of innocent mistakes on the mail ballot application or envelope.

Only a handful of states require a photo ID, and about 2 dozen require a voter ID. Theres a big difference - voter ID is usually something most if not all people can provide: social security card, medicare card, voter registration card, utility bill etc.

Bottom line - Photo ID sounds impressive but if you examine it closely, it does not protect the vote from fraud and it DOES disenfranchise poor, elderly and disabled. That is un-American.

re: Voter ID laws carry hefty price tag for cash-strapped states

Doug, NO instances of "voter impersonation", the only kind of fraud voter ID laws are designed to prevent, in Texas despite $1.4 million study by state to try to find instances to justify a new law. Nonetheless, it looks like Texas is going to get it anyway due to overwhelming Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature and, of course, our Republican Governor.