Voter ID: is the cost worth the benefits?

Voter_IDI’ve not been very interested in or informed about the Voter ID debate thus far, but now that we citizens will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment this fall, it’s time to try to get smarter about it.

Randy Maluchnik, Carver County commissioner and president of the Association of Minnesota Counties, had a commentary in last week’s Strib titled Let serious debate begin on voter ID that I found to be a good starting point.  Two excerpts summarize the partisan divide:

Opponents of the voter ID proposal accused supporters of disenfranchising seniors, college students, minorities and the poor. Proponents suggested that their opponents were simply trying to protect an election system fraught with fraud and open to manipulation. The hyperpartisan rhetoric did little to help inform public opinion…

The debate ended the way it began. Republicans called it a common-sense measure to tighten up Minnesota’s voting system and make sure voters are who they say they are. DFLers said the requirement would not prevent the tiny amount of fraud that exists but may erect barriers to certain voters and throw a bombshell into Minnesota’s popular election-day registration system.

Maluchnik’s concerns about costs:

If approved, this constitutional amendment would require the state to spend millions to provide free IDs to thousands of Minnesotans and to educate citizens on the state’s new voting requirements.

In addition, local governments would need to implement provisional balloting, a process that allows voters who arrive at the polls without an ID to cast a ballot that would be counted only if they subsequently provided the necessary identification. This process would require local governments to print special ballots, purchase new equipment, hire and train additional election judges, and pay for storage and security of provisional ballots. Studies have shown that implementing a provisional balloting process will cost local governments — and, in turn, property-tax payers — millions of dollars every election season.

Yikes.

32 comments to  (Including 6 Discussion Threads) Voter ID: is the cost worth the benefits?

  • 1

    Has anyone offered any concrete statistics as to how much voter fraud we think is happening? Hard to evaluate this without some kind of sense of the scale of the problem.

  • 2
    Ray Cox says:

    Peter, I think if people really knew how much voter fraud was occurring they would take legal actions against it. From what I can tell the voter ID proposal is a way to assure voters that voters are who they say they are when they cast a vote, and that they are indeed entitled to vote. Another part is to establish a process to create provisional ballots so the ballot box is not “contaminated” with votes from unauthorized voters. In our present system, once a ballot is mixed in with every other ballot it immediately becomes a valid ballot. With provisional voting some voters will have their ballots set aside until further needed information is furnished to the election judges.

    • 2.1

      My thought is: No matter what we do, unless no one gets to vote we’ll have some invalid votes, and unless we just let anyone who wants to fill out a ballot without any checks or balances, we’ll have at least some people denied the vote when they were entitled to it.

      The goal, I think, should be that the votes counted reflect the intent of the people who were eligible to vote as accurately as possible. If a particular policy were to prevent fifty invalid votes from being cast, and a hundred valid votes from being cast, I would say it was a pretty bad policy.

      Honestly, unless someone can present pretty solid evidence that we have a serious problem on a large enough scale to care about, I would much rather see the money spent on something else. We have people being denied basic health care coverage and food stamps because we haven’t got the budget, for instance; that strikes me as a much bigger problem than a theorized fraud problem which no one has demonstrated to exist.

      Furthermore, the specific mechanism proposed strikes me as being much more likely to affect some people than others, and those “some people” are disproportionately poor folks. That it’d be pretty easy for me to meet a law’s requirements does not mean that it’d be easy for everyone else, and I know people who have spent months trying to get paperwork sorted out.

  • 3

    Peter:
    The League of Women Voters of Minnesota had a presentation last spring about Voter ID at St. John’s Church. During that, they noted that in the Franken/Coleman election — one of the closest in our history — there were only five or so accusations of fraud, and (if I remember right) no actual convictions. They have a website opposing voter ID, but I can’t find it there. The breakdown of the constitutional amendment is particularly helpful.

    Ray,
    I’ve always seen you as a voice of reason among Republicans, and I’m really surprised to see you support this. In particular, I remain very concerned about people who do not have their current address on their ID. My grandmother was from Montana, but she spent the last three years of her life at the Northfield Hospital Long-Term Care Center. She cared a great deal about politics, but she had no reason to have a Minnesota license (she’d not driven in at least 10 years). Even if she’d been able to produce a birth certificate, her incapacity in her later years of life would have made it impractical for her to actually go and get ID in person. She’s not alone: I doubt any of the other residents of that nursing home have 2000 North Ave on any form of ID.

    The same issue exists on a larger scale for college students. Now, we don’t know exactly how this constitutional amendment would be implemented — but assuming it would be implemented in a similar fashion as the voter ID law the Republicans tried to pass, it would definitely require current address, and college “vouching” would only allow a provisional ballot to be cast. Like the elderly, college students are extremely unlikely to have their current address on their ID. Like many other students, I have my parents’ address on my license. I am, however, registered to vote at my apartment near St. Olaf. Every year I have been at St. Olaf, my address of residence has changed; it’s hardly reasonable to expect students to go and have a clipped license for a month every year. I would think it would also be burdensome for the Northfield DMV to process an additional 5000 applications every year…

    Of course what I’m more concerned about is that they won’t be processing 5000 applications every year; rather, far fewer people will vote. This amendment would have little effect on the middle-aged, middle-class legislators who supported it, but it would be crippling to the voice of the young, the old, and the poor.

    • 3.1
      john george says:

      Sean- Just a comment about your grandmother voting in the nursing home, my wife is the Activities Director at a facility here in Northfield. Each election, it is her responsibility to see that those residents who are able and desire to vote be given a ballot. She is responsible for their accounting, also. I would urge you to check with your grandmother. If she has not been able to vote in the time she has lived here, I would question whether the facility where she resides is following through properly. There are programs in place to cover the elderly.

    • 3.2

      John:
      She was able to vote (she’s since died) — that’s exactly my point. I don’t think she would have been able to under these proposed Voter ID requirements. The Activities Director may be able to help residents with that, but they can’t dig up a resident’s birth certificate and apply for a state ID or voting ID for them…

      • 3.2.1
        john george says:

        Sean- All this information is already on file with the nursing homes. There is no need for further documentation.

      • 3.2.2
        David Beimers says:

        Under the current law, certain institutions are permitted to provide rosters to the precincts which verify the residence of those voters. For example, colleges can do this for students in their residence halls. Perhaps this also applies to nursing homes? Anyhow, the proposed law will no longer permit this action. The language attached to the constitutional amendment says that “All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued photographic identification before receiving a ballot. The state must issue photographic identification at no charge to an eligible voter who does not have a form of identification meeting the requirements of this section.”

        One of the points of discussion was whether to require “government-issued” versus “government-approved” ID. Because the GOP fought for the more stringent “government-approved”, it will make it harder to for college students and the elderly to vote.

    • 3.3
      Raymond Daniels says:

      Sean…quick note. It is illegal not to have your current address on your license. You have 30 days to change your address. As for burdensome for the DMV, they get $13.50 everytime you need to change your address, so they would get an extra 70K every year.

  • 4

    The states’ rights guy in me also finds it objectionable to see my home state being used as another pawn in this national Republican movement to disenfranchise voters. I don’t think the proposed amendment relates to Minnesota’s needs or concerns; we are proud for being one of the best states for voter turnout and accuracy. It is fairly clear to me that this is about unionwide ambitions for excluding the voices of those would vote a certain way — not matters that really affect Minnesota.

  • 5
    David Beimers says:

    There will certainly be a significant cost if the voter ID amendment passes. College Dems and Repubs will be in the union on the first day of school, registering students, ensuring that they all get their state approved IDs prior to the election. It’s interesting… when a colleague asked Al DeKruif about the cost of implementing a system to produce all these new IDs, he hadn’t even considered the cost. Huh.

  • 6
    Leota Goodney says:

    I am most concerned about the cost that this will impose on local governments in terms of additional hardware, software, people, etc. If the supporters have actual data about the kind of voter fraud that would be prevented by voter ID, I’d be willing to listen. But I haven’t heard any evidence. The only thing I have heard is the study that says that the voter rolls need to be matched up with the social security administration records of deaths. Well, that sounds sensible, but it doesn’t have anything to do with voter ID.

    Also, if we are talking fraud then that implies intent. If somebody is intending to commit fraud then what’s to stop a wholesale market in fake ID’s? I understand that they are standard practice in the actual criminal part of society.

    I am opposed to spending taxpayer dollars on something that is a possible problem when we are having a hard time finding money for things that are obvious problems, like roads and education.

  • 7
    Leota Goodney says:

    According to the MN secretary of state website, there are an estimated 4944 REGISTERED voters in MN senate district 25 (as currently constituted) who do not currently have valid ID or driver’s license. If you are not in district 25 go to the MN Secretary of State website, election and voting tab and look up the estimate for your district.

    That’s a lot of people to get processed. Or it’s a lot of provisional ballots. And that’s just here in Northfield.

    Another point. The amendment leaves it to the legislature to make the rules. Having watched the legislature at work the last two years, I am entirely sceptical about that body’s ability to come up with sensible rules or processes about anything.

  • 8
    john george says:

    In general, my opinion is that the restrictions upon the elderly and students are just straw men. I really believe, when it comes down to it, that objections like these are another attempt at selective government. I remember a line from a movie “A Few Good Men.” “Don’t tell me what is right and what is wrong! You can’t prove (your position) in court! I know the law!”

    I also believe that some of what is driving this legislation is a fear of our country being overrun with undocumented people who make decisions for those people who have been here for generations. Hmmmmm. Does this sound like what happened to the Native Americans after Columbus arrived? Perhaps we are reaping what we have sown.

  • 9
    David Henson says:

    The party that believes in limited government wants to add a new form of government ID. This is the type of nrain dead idea that makes me question voting Republican and screams out for a third party.

  • 10
    kiffi summa says:

    Sean and Leota are making all the rational arguments that the League of Women Voters is making in fighting these voter ID laws all over the country…

    But guess what folks, the urge to limit access to voting by instituting Voter ID laws where there is no evidence of need for them is NOT rational, and as many of the other limits- to -life- as- we- would -like- to- keep- experiencing- it that are proposed by Republicans who would like to see only those they approve of have the right of ‘whatever’… they will continue to fear-monger those who do not take the time to inform themselves with the true facts … but are only too afraid of losing something, to someone, they consider lesser than themselves.

    And by the way… who will pay for all the bureaucracy needed to enforce their reprehensible, constricting rules? All of us…
    Maybe the costs of establishing the enforcing bureaucracy should be tracked to the people who voted for instigating the Voter ID laws… and then see if they pass…

  • 11
    Leota Goodney says:

    Does somebody have some reliable estimate of the cost of this thing? I know I have seen some information recently, but I can’t remember where.

  • 12

    I am not quite sure whether the government pays for all the extra IDs, or the recipients do; if it’s the latter, it’s awfully close to a poll tax, if it’s the former, that’d be a non-trivial cost. There’s also the verification at the time of voting, which would at least marginally increase the cost of running the polls; not sure how much.

    The big cost is people who are legitimately entitled to vote being denied due to mishaps of whatever sort. That strikes me as a very large cost indeed, and one focused extra closely on people who are poor or disabled in some way.

    And while I am very fond of the nice folks who run our polling stations, if you expect me to believe that they could reliably spot fake IDs without expensive machinery of some sort, I am going to have to ask you whether you brought enough of those drugs to share, because that belief is completely implausible. And as Leota points out: Fraud implies intent, and people who are trying to cheat will have no trouble coming up with fake IDs.

  • 13
    David Roberts says:

    Not to worry about Nursing Home the service comes to the voters : We need to worry about convicted felons they should nevere re-gain the right to vote and maybe an Id saying no would help the poll workers : Voting is a honor and duty : But for felons and sex offenders ther should be no right to vote ever again

    • 13.1

      David:
      I really like the way Peter put it:

      The goal, I think, should be that the votes counted reflect the intent of the people who were eligible to vote as accurately as possible. If a particular policy were to prevent fifty invalid votes from being cast, and a hundred valid votes from being cast, I would say it was a pretty bad policy.

      Though, honestly, I’d envisioned the proportion as being much more dramatic: perhaps we’ll lose 100 votes for every 1 or 2 invalid votes we prevent being cast. Though I’m not really clear how we benefit from felons being unable to vote, it’s relatively easy to prevent already: just create a registry of SSNs and associated ID/driver’s license numbers (there may be one already) — you need one of those numbers to register anyway.

      In any case, nursing residents may be able to vote from their nursing home (or at least vote absentee) — but they can’t get ID. Which is exactly why this law, not the current law, is problematic.

    • 13.2

      I really don’t like the idea of disenfranchising people. Was reading an article a while back; there is a registered sex offender out there whose crime is that, as a mother of a teenage daughter, she did not successfully prevent her child from ever having sex with anyone under any circumstances. I really don’t think that’s grounds for losing the vote, at least, not if we want anyone with children who are or were teenagers to be able to vote.

      “Felon” is a really broad category, and “ever again” is a really long time. You screw up once when you’re 18 and when you’re 78 you still can’t vote? That seems… not really good to me.

  • 14
    Ray Cox says:

    Sean and others, I truly believe the intent of this bill is to ensure the electorate that people who vote are who they say they are and are allowed to cast a legal ballot….period. Sean, you say you are suprised that “I’m supporting this effort”. Frankly, I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t support it. Polling shows somewhere between 72 and 80% of voters support it, which is great support, but shows that some are out there that do not support it.

    My vote is essentially is the most valuable thing I have. I believe the process to collect that vote should employ just about everything knows to create a legal, proper, true count of legal votes.

    Not much has been said about the huge quantity of voter registration confirmation cards that are returned after each election in Minnesota. The Secretary of States office sends out these cards to the same day registrations and the cards cannot be forwarded. I understand that anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 cards are returned to the SOS office by the US Postal Service as ‘undeliverable’. Maybe some of these folks moved away right after the election, but maybe some of them either never existed or never lived at the address. One of the best ways to confirm that is with photo ID laws.

    The other day I registered a canoe. I was asked for a photo ID to do so. As I presented it I couldn’t help but think “so it is important enough to ask for my photo ID to register my canoe, but not to cast a vote”.

    As I said earlier, I also really appreciate the provisional voting parts of this law. Holding questionable votes out of the ballot box pending additional information just makes sense. Once mixed in the entire system is contaminated.

    As for the costs of implementing a photo ID system, I simply view it as the cost of a free democracy. If you don’t have a valid photo ID and cannot afford one, then the law will require the state to issue one to you for free. We do all sorts of things in America that could either be done away with, or done less expensively—everything from zoning regulations, to business permits—-but we retain them as a way to ensure the public that their concerns are being addressed. Voter ID is just another one of these issues.

    • 14.1
      kiffi summa says:

      The League of Women Voters, all across the Country, is in serious disagreement, Ray.

      I do not think anyone could find the LWV to be a radical, or even less than thoughtful group, and they are solidly against Voter ID laws to the point they are bringing lawsuits against the worst versions of these laws.

      When a group which is as fiercely un-partisan on political parties, but as protective of voting rights as is the LWV, decides to fight against Voter ID as a major thrust of their activity this year, then I think people better stop and ask, why?

      • 14.1.1
        David Henson says:

        Ray, do you also support canoe registration?

        Honestly, the Republican party seems to have lost it’s way and the ID seems a plan to limit voters (like a negative ad) rather than actually create a platform and put forward leaders with broader appeal.

    • 14.2

      In the absence of a clear demonstration that there is a real problem — not just a rumor of an isolated occurrence, but say, actual evidence that:

      1. There is a problem on a large enough scale to conceivably affect an election.
      2. This change would fix it.

      I am gonna have to stay opposed. I have no confidence that this law could be implemented in a which will not “accidentally” disenfranchise a bunch of poor people, whoops, our bad, maybe we’ll fix it next year. And I see no evidence that it’s needed.

      It’s theatre. People appeal to your fear by implying that you might lose the effect of your vote; they don’t actually show that this is a real problem, they just imply that it might be. Then they propose an alleged fix.

      Where is the demonstration that this fix is even relevant to the actual problem, or that the actual problem exists? It doesn’t exist, because there is not currently a voter fraud problem, and if there were, it is not remotely obvious that this law would do anything to address it.

      Look, consider the problem of going to McD’s and going to the lobby and ordering food, and then someone else takes your food. They should have an ID requirement to grab bags of food. If they don’t PEOPLE WILL STARVE because we will not get our burgers!

      … This argument is at least as good as the argument for voter ID, because if you look at the logs of Not Always Right, you’ll see an actual *example* of a person taking someone else’s food at a fast food place.

      I’ve heard of lots of ways of doing vote fraud. Virtually none of them involve pretending to be someone else who actually exists and could vote.

      Yes, lots of people “support” this — meaning that with no information, and a slanted presentation, they think it sounds like a good idea at first glance. Without, say, considering the costs.

      This is not a necessary cost of a democracy. We have a working democracy without it, and there is no threat to our democracy which it solves. In fact, it is a threat to our democracy, because no matter how much you say the problems could be solved, when the rubber meets the road, under this law there will be people who would be otherwise allowed to vote and entitled to a vote who get turned away because they did not understand or successfully follow the additional requirements, or their ID got lost, or whatever else. And that is a genuine threat to our democracy.

      You wanna defend the right to vote? Step one is not inserting arbitrary barriers to voting without a very, very, good reason.

  • 15
    Leota Goodney says:

    Ray -- You said, “I understand that anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 cards are returned to the SOS office by the US Postal Service as ‘undeliverable’.” Could you please tell me the source of that information? Though I think I have seen something like that somewhere previously, that is the only thing approaching evidence of actual fraud that I have heard about and I am interested in exploring that.

    Also, you say you view the cost of implementation as simply a cost of a free democracy. I still want to know the actual dollars to the taxpayers, because this is an unfunded mandate on local governments that the legislature has put on the ballot. That is aside from the various costs to the individuals which have been listed in this discussion.

  • 16

    Calling something part of the cost of a free democracy is a great appeal-to-emotion. We all want democracy, yayyy democracy! But it turns out that this can mask the very important question of whether a proposed course is actually an improvement in the quality of our democracy. If it’s not actually an improvement, it doesn’t matter how cheap or expensive it is, it’s not worth it.

  • 17
    Kathie Galotti says:

    Personally, for me, I would rather have my tax dollars going to support health care and education than to set up a large infrastructure to protect against what seems to be (at least from published, reputable sources) a small problem.

  • 18
    David Henson says:

    I hope Republicans, Democrats and Independents will vote against another form of Government ID. The amendment is an embarassment to the Republican party and is not publicly discussed enough.

    • 18.1

      Totally agreed. The fact is, while there certainly is voter fraud, if you look at all the documented cases, what they all have in common is that they do not involve people pretending to be someone else. This is just a lame attempt at voter suppression.

  • 19
    kiffi summa says:

    If you look to the left sidebar on LG’s home page, you’ll see that Councilor Buckheit has once again blogged about the Voter ID issue … this time explaining why it is also a local issue for the Council to vote on.

    The cost in time in the legislature to decide what is a “valid” ID, ( amendment if voted in is to be implemented by July 2013) to say nothing of the costs to the various levels of government to comply, is both large , wasteful, and by fact, unnecessary

    All the arguments re: this issue being a “solution without a problem” have been made , but I, think it is worth going back to the origin of many of these Voter ID amendments which have been popping up all over the country in state legislatures.

    Most of them originate with ALEC…American Legislative Exchange Council … sounds OK, doesn’t it?
    Well, it’s not.
    This is a conservative think tank which churns out conservatively motivated legislation/bills which when pursued collectively by state legislatures, will generate (presumably) more pressure for Federal law on an issue.

    Go to their website, Google articles about them, make up your own mind …

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