In this legislative session, at least thirty-seven state legislatures are considering or have considered voter ID and/or proof of citizenship legislation. Many of these measures would condition access to the ballot box on voters showing specific forms of official photo ID, and all would put in place ID requirements more restrictive than those already in use.
As we have blogged about before, a recent Brennan Center report explains that to pass constitutional muster, mandatory ID laws need to be passed in conjunction with provisions to provide free state-issued IDs, universal access to acquiring IDs, and a comprehensive public outreach campaign to educate voters on the new requirements. Even if the IDs are made available free of charge, they still involve a burden of resources and time. With all of these additional measures that must be passed, the financial burdens of strict voter ID policies may be significant while many states are facing severe economic crises and yawning budget gaps.
Below are some updates on the projected costs and administrative burdens of voter ID bills in four states. It is important to note that many fiscal notes and projected costs of proposed voter ID legislation underestimate the cost of such bills by failing to take into account the necessary constitutional requirements states must satisfy in implementing new laws.
After one of the voter ID bills in Minnesota (HF 210) containing a provision for mandatory electronic verification was estimated to cost up to $84 million, legislators proposed another bill that makes such stringent verification optional. The projected cost for HF 89 is just under $5 million, but according to Minnesota Common Cause and Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota the actual cost of HF 89 would be closer to $25 million (with the inclusion of potential costs to local election offices). The state senate is expected to vote on this bill in the next few weeks, or fold the house version into the state budget legislation.
North Carolina is one of the few states in which legislators have decided not to continue pushing for a photo ID requirement in their voter ID legislation due to cost concerns, and have instead stated that voters can use their voter registration card as a valid form of identification (we saw this happen in Nebraska as well). Other valid forms of identification include bills, bank statements, checks, and other similar documents with the name of the voter. This decision was based in part on the projected costs associated with a mandatory photo ID requirement, which were estimated at a minimum of $850,000 and potentially up to $2.5 million.
South Carolina is also pushing a voter ID through its state legislature, but the associated cost estimates are similarly making politicians and the public wary of such a mandate. According to the state’s election commission, 178,000 voters do not have state issued photo IDs; and, according to the Pew Center on the States, the cost for implementing an ID mandate would be about $720,000, with a recurring cost of about $260,000.
The controversial voter ID bill (SB 14) passed on March 23rd, and was sent to a conference committee to determine whether certain amendments should be added before it is sent to the Governor next week. The cost of implementing the reforms set out in this bill is expected to be $2 million in the 2012 fiscal year, not a small amount of money for a state with a budget deficit of about $27 billion. There is also concern that the financial burden will be placed on local election officials, with some of them referring to the bill as an “unfunded mandate.” This additional burden refers to local offices having to remain open, and the hiring of additional poll workers on Election Day in order to comply with the new regulations.