Conservatives Continue To Push Voter Suppression In States Despite Potential $140 Million Price Tag

As voter ID legislation continues to be rammed through state legislatures across the country, conservatives are celebrating passage of these bills, intended to suppress turnout among traditionally progressive constituencies, as a victory. However, no one is actually winning – not minority, low-income, and other historically disenfranchised voters who will be disproportionately affected by the new laws, and certainly not already-squeezed state budgets forced to find millions of dollars to make these bills a reality. It has become increasingly clear that supporters of these measures have given little consideration to the significant costs that will be incurred as cash-strapped states implement and, in all likelihood, defend voter ID laws.

Voter ID legislation, in which voters would be required to show photo identification at the polling place, has been introduced in an unprecedented 27 states this year. Bills vary in their severity – if enacted, Wisconsin’s bill would be the strictest in the nation by accepting only driver’s licenses, Department of Transportation-issued IDs, passports, naturalization papers, military IDs, tribal IDs, and, potentially, student IDs. Other states are considering legislation that accepts a wider variety of IDs, such as any form of photo ID issued by the federal or state government. In any case, voter ID legislation must include a costly provision for free government-issued photo IDs in order to be considered constitutional.

The following table shows the projected costs of voter ID for many of the states that are confronting voter ID legislation this year, along with their projected budget shortfalls for the 2012 fiscal year:


State Projected Cost of Voter ID Implementation Projected FY 2012 Budget Shortfall
Colorado $3.5 million for free IDs only $988 million
Kansas (signed into law) $69,500, but will likely go up – fiscal note counts the cost of providing free IDs as “negligible,” but the state acknowledges that at least 620,000 residents could be eligible for free ID. Other implementation costs, such as voter education, equipment purchases, trainings, etc. are unrealistically low. $492 million
Maine $256,000 for free IDs only + revenue loss of $69,000/year to eliminate fees currently collected on IDs $436 million
Minnesota $84 million over three years $3.8 billion
Missouri $21.2 million over three years $704 million
North Carolina $18-25 million over three years $2.4 billion
Ohio Up to $980,400 for free IDs only $3 billion
Pennsylvania Almost $7 million for free IDs only $4.2 billion
Rhode Island N/A $331 million
South Carolina $1.3 million with annual costs of $260,000 for free ID’s only, a gross underestimate. Estimated cost of providing free ID is only $100,000, which would only cover 20,000 of 180,000 registered voters lacking ID. Voter education is estimated at $160,000, but postage to one mailing to each registered voter alone would cost almost $1 million. $877 million
Texas $2 million for voter education only. $13.4 billion
Wisconsin $2.3 million, in addition to cost to election administrations for voter education and an up to 50% increase ($2.5 million) to the state DMV budget to provide free IDs $1.8 billion

All told, the above voter ID laws may cost states a minimum of $140 million to implement across the nation even before, in many cases, voter outreach, poll worker training, and other necessary costs are taken into account – all to address a form of voter fraud so rare that one is more likely to be struck by lightning. States will have to add onto already severe cuts to social services, education, and other vital programs just to pay for implementation.

Another possible cost that states with voter ID laws on the books must look out for is the threat of litigation. Opponents of voter ID have already indicated that a lawsuit is a possibility in Minnesota, and similar laws in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio have also been subjected to lawsuits in recent years, many of them protracted battles. NAACP v. Billups, a case questioning the constitutionality of Georgia’s voter ID law that went all the way to the Supreme Court, took nearly four years to be concluded. But between these ever-increasing costs, questions about how constitutional such bills are without a means of funding, fears from election administrators that voter ID laws will create “a nightmare during elections,” and the significant impacts on minority, low-income, youth, and elderly voters, it is clear that the cost of voter ID is more than just monetary. 

Full Resources from this Article

Conservatives Continue To Push Voter Suppression In States Despite Potential $140 Million Price Tag

Election Protection – National and State Resources to Combat Photo ID Bills
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – States Continue to Feel Recession’s Impact
MinnPost – Voter ID opponents say litigation a possibility
Stateline – Newly empowered GOP push voter ID

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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