As election day draws closer and our televisions are consumed by ads from groups most of us never even knew existed, one issue in particular seems to be statistically all over the place.
The Voter Identification Amendment that we’ll be voting on Nov. 6, is going to cost Minnesota anywhere between $3 million and $70 million, according to politicians out of St. Paul.
This estimated cost gap was visible even at the St. James Candidate Forum when the topic was brought up.
“What we're hearing is about $3.8 million,” said District 24 Senator Julie Rosen who due to district restructuring, will be running for District 23 Office this November.
Paul Marquardt, a candidate for State Senate District 23 disagreed, saying, “I heard from a source earlier today that it was going to cost Mankato $638 thousand to implement this, and that's just Blue Earth County. So we've got 81 counties in this state, you do the math, I think it's a little more than 3.8 million dollars."
By Marquardt’s numbers it’s actually about $51.7 million to implement the amendment.
That’s a big difference coming from the two opposing sides, but before we get into the actual math and costs of the amendment, it is important to understand just what the amendment will do.
If it passes, the language of the Voter Identification Amendment will be listed in the constitution as follows:
“All voters voting in person must present valid government-issued 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. A voter unable to present government-issued photographic identification must be permitted to submit a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot must only be counted if the voter certifies the provisional ballot in the manner provided by law. All voters, including those not voting in person, must be subject to substantially equivalent identity and eligibility verification prior to a ballot being cast or counted.”
This means you must have an accepted form of identification in order to vote. If you do not, the state government will provide you with an ID free of charge. The cost of identification is relatively small, only about $1.1 to $1.3 million in the first year statewide. These costs will be covered exclusively by the state government if the amendment passes.
It also means, that if you don’t have an accepted government issued identification, you can cast a provisional ballot, which will be set aside until you can bring in an appropriate ID.
“I think we’d find, a lot of people believe they have acceptable identification, but don’t,” said Watonwan County Auditor Don Kuhlman.
Page 2 of 2 - These provisional ballots would invite accusations from both parties of fraud, as they remain stagnant until an acceptable ID is shown.
The bulk of the amendment costs come from electronic poll books and their implementation if the amendment passes. According to most sources, electronic poll books would be necessary in order for same day registration to remain – an aspect of voting both parties admit they’d like to see stay.
“Elimination of Election Day registration could affect future voter turnout by as much as 10 to 12 percent,” according to the Hubert H. Humphrey school of public affairs (HHH).
In Watonwan County there were 614 voters in 2008 who used same-day registration with about 4,300 total voters in 21 precincts, 13 of which are mail-in ballot precincts.
The estimated cost of each pollbook is $4,620.34. This expense falls entirely on local government and multiplies the total first year costs of the amendment significantly.
Watonwan County contains no precincts that currently use electronic poll books, which would mean that, if the amendment passes, the local government would likely have to purchase this new equipment.
“The 2011 Fiscal Note estimates the cost if only half of the state’s precincts obtain the equipment to be almost $28 million alone and would be born exclusively by the local jurisdiction,” according to HHH, taking into account 5,945 workstations at an estimated cost of $4,620.34 each and 1,617 registration printers at $300 each.
A Common Case Minnesota study, based on comparable amendments in Missouri and Wisconsin, estimates a total cost of $58.8 million for electronic poll books.
Keep in mind, that is only the estimate for the switch to electronic poll books.
Additional costs would likely incur as a result of the extended training of election judges, longer election days and voter awareness campaigns. Total costs fall anywhere between $32 million and $68 million, conservatively, for first year amendment cost estimates.
“It is quite evident that there are large disparities among the cost projections surrounding the passage of Minnesota’s Voter Identification Amendment. However, there is consistency among them in that local governments are expected to absorb the largest share of the burden. The state’s fiscal note estimates over 85 percent of total first-year costs to fall on local government,” says HHH.
The amendment after the first year is relatively affordable, estimated anywhere between $4 and $6 million by Minnesota Management and Budget.
Still, according to News21, an investigative reporting unit, since 2000 there have been “10 cases of voter impersonation. With 146 million registered voters in the United States during that time, those 10 cases represent one out of about every 15 million prospective voters.”
So, the question has to be asked, how much are we willing to spend to ensure that our elections are free of fraud?