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The Fiscal Costs of Minnesota’s Voter ID Amendment

October 01, 2012 By Justin Caron, Fellow

The numbers to implement voter ID are staggering, falling especially hard on local governments already hit by state funding cuts and a down economy.

To estimate the expense of the amendment, Minnesota Management and Budget used fiscal note analyses conducted on two versions of the 2011 voter ID bill that was vetoed by the governor for comparison. Its findings concluded that the measure would cost the state and local governments between $8.3 million and $23.3 million in its first year alone. Of this, $1.1 million would go toward paying for ID cards, $2.7 million would pay for voter outreach and public education efforts, while the biggest discrepancy between the notes would be in whether municipalities would require new electronic poll books.

Moreover, upwards of 80 percent of the financial burden would be borne by cash-strapped local governments, and because the measure is an unfunded mandate, these governments would be forced to cut back on already tight budgets or make up the shortfall by raising property taxes.

While there is little reason to be suspect of these numbers, amend supporters say the state’s estimates are too high. However, their calculations tend to underestimate or leave out key costs, including poll-worker training and the cost of electronic poll books. 

Conversely, the election watchdog organization Citizens for Election Transparency Minnesota found the costs of the amendment for state and local governments to be between $36.5 million and $77.6 million with an additional $16 to $72 million in costs to individuals.

According to an analysis undertaken by Ramsey County Director of Elections Joe Mansky, the amendment could cost the county almost $1.75 million over the course of its first two years. Mansky estimates that $174, 000 of this would be needed for additional election judges at every election thereafter. On top of that amount, as much as $1.25 million would be required every four years to cover costs of secure computers and polling books at each polling station. Anoka County Elections Manager Cindy Reichert says that a preliminary estimate of the costs to her office would be around $700,000. Kent Sulem, General Council for the Minnesota Association of Townships estimates costs to be between $1000 and $3000 per township for provisional voting alone.

Using county data, Mansky also calculated the number of individuals charged with voter fraud from 2006-2011 to be 123 out of which 114 resulted in convictions. Of those charged, 102 were felons who registered and voted, 20 were felons who registered but did not vote, and 1 was a non-citizen who voted. Given that felons and even non-citizens are likely to have a valid photo ID, had the voter amendment been active in those years, it would not have prevented any of these cases of voter fraud with certainty. In fact, the type of fraud the amendment is designed to prevent, impersonation, is virtually non-existent.

The exact costs of the voter ID amendment, if passed, cannot be calculated with certainty because the specifics of implementation and administration would be determined by the state legislature. This is precisely what has so many lawmakers worried. A survey of the literature covering national studies of election legislation demonstrates that state governments largely underestimate costs in estimates of fiscal notes. For instance Indiana, which passed voter ID legislation in 2005, had initially estimated the cost of providing voter identification cards at $700,000 but ended up spending more than $10 million plus an additional $2.2 million for voter education and outreach.

Regardless of who's numbers prove most accurate, Minnesota’s voter ID amendment carries a multi-million dollar price tag. Our state, which consistently has some of the nation’s highest voter participation rates and levels of transparency and integrity, is faced with millions of dollars of additional costs to the state, and thousands (and some cases potentially millions) of dollars of mandated costs for each local government. Voters must therefore ask themselves if it's worth investing their tax dollars to permanently implement voting restrictions to combat a problem that doesn't exist.

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  • Bernice Vetsch says:

    October 2, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I’m going to make copies of your article to use as a handout in an upcoming informational meeting at my condo building on the Voter ID amendment. 

    Thanks for the excellent information.

  • Eric Andersen says:

    October 15, 2012 at 11:44 am

    There are over 450 thousand college students in Minnesota.  Many of these college students change their address every year.  Providing ‘free IDs’ to this group alone, every year, is really going to add up.  Colleges and universities will most likely have getting a ‘free ID’ part of their registration process at the beginning of each year.
    What’s next?  Maybe we should have a constitutional amendment that requires everyone to have a home security system.  It would make us all safer, right?  It would be an unfunded mandate of course.