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Voter ID, anticipated consequences for local government should it pass

Fri, Oct 19th, 2012
Posted in All Government

When you cast your ballot in just a few short weeks, you will be asked to vote Yes or No on the proposed voter ID amendment. On the face of it this seems like it is reasonable for voters to show a photo ID. However, there are many who believe its implementation will be expensive and make voting cumbersome for some who don’t have an acceptable photo ID. Obtaining an ID will impose transportation issues, especially for the elderly. There are are many unknowns, because the enabling or supporting legislation has not been written and won’t be until the 2013 legislative session, if the amendment passes. What photo IDs will be accepted as a valid ID has not been clearly established, or at least there is disagreement among supporters of the amendment and those against it. However, the language in the amendment says “valid government-issued photographic identification.”

A major argument for those against the amendment is that changes in our voting system should be accomplished through legislation, not through a constitutional amendment. Legislation can be more easily tweaked or reversed. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (DFL) was recently quoted in a Duluth News Tribune article, “It’s not like a law passed by the Legislature, where we can go back and fix it next year...This will be forever...This will be in the constitution, and it’s full of really serious problems.” Dan McGrath who leads a group that supports the amendment insists that any problems can be resolved by the Legislature in 2013. Supporters insist that there are many myths out there about the amendment and that the photo ID amendment will improve the integrity of elections. The purpose of the amendment is to reduce voter fraud, but evidence seems to indicate that voter fraud has not been significant.

Randy Maluchnik, the current president of the Association of Minnesota Counties, maintains that “if this becomes another unfunded mandate on local governments, property taxpayers will end up picking up the tab.”

Potential Cost to Fillmore County

Fillmore County Auditor/Treasurer Shirl Boelter at my request compiled potential costs for the county. This must be prefaced with the fact that there are many unknowns, so much of the information is speculative. Our county has 37 Precincts and 20 shared polling places.

Boelter notes if electronic poll books are required, she estimates 45 will be needed. The estimated cost per poll book is $1,700 to $4,000. The total cost would be between $76,500 and $180,000. Voters would swipe their ID across the poll book and it would mark where and when they voted at the State Voter Registration System.

Voters who don’t have a valid ID when they come to the polling place will be given a provisional ballot. Boelter suggests that two additional election judges will be needed to handle provisional ballots at each polling place. Her estimated cost for the additional judges for cities and townships is at least $500 per election. There may be additional costs for training election judges.

Another unknown is the requirements and costs associated with securing and processing the provisional ballots. These requirements have not yet been established. Boelter expects that voters casting provisional ballots will have to bring their ID to the courthouse to have their ballot counted. This will possibly require additional staffing at the auditor/treasurer’s office adding to the cost.

If there is a close election for city, school district, county, state or federal, results will likely be determined by provisional ballots. This will cause a waiting period for election results. It has been suggested that voters will have ten business days to come to their county seat with proper identification so their vote can be counted, which could delay certifiable results for two weeks.

The cost of the ID for those that don’t have a valid ID is another unknown. The state says it will provide a free ID, but there is not clear information as to who pays for the documentation for that ID. Boelter noted that a Minnesota Birth Certificate costs $26 and voters with a name change due to marriage will likely have to produce a certified copy of their marriage certificate, which costs $9.00.

Boelter says she believes her office “has an amazing working relationship with our Cities, School Districts, and Township officials. If Voter ID passes I know that we will work together to minimize any costs to the tax payers.”

Voter Fraud in

Fillmore County?

Boelter informed me that there have been instances of four felons voting in the county since 2007. When their information was entered into the present system, they were flagged. This information was referred to the county attorney. However, they may have had their rights restored, which would make it legal for them to vote, or they may have not known they could not vote. In any case, three of them were election day registrations and they had an ID, so the proposed voter ID amendment would not have prevented them from voting.

Declarations from other

Minnesota Counties

Several rural counties are concerned about the complications the voter ID amendment will mean for their residents, making it very difficult for their residents to cast their vote due to distance. The cost to these counties to comply with rules that have yet to be legislated is of great concern.

An article in the Fergus Falls Daily Journal details some of the following information saying the “amendment may jeopardize mail-balloting.”

St. Louis County has unorganized townships. There are parts of the county where all of the ballots are submitted through the mail. The county auditor complains about the lack of details at this point, noting that parts of the county have no public place for voting. Residents will either have to drive long distances to vote or there will be added costs to provide suitable polling places. The auditor’s office estimates it could cost the county at least a half of million for 2014 elections.

The St. Louis County auditor, Donald Dicklich, asks for “voters to educate themselves about its impacts were it to pass.” He adds that if it were to pass it would make voting more complex...and with complexity comes significantly higher costs--costs borne by property taxpayers.”

Concerns about mail-in balloting have been raised in northwester Kittson and Marshall Counties where over 90 percent of voters mail-in their ballot, where there often is not a place in townships to vote. Under current law, towns can manage their elections with mail-in balloting where there are less than 400 registered voters. Those supporting the amendment suggest these voters would just be required to include their ID number on their ballot. This is up in the air because the rules have not been established and won’t be until the 2013 Legislative session.

There have been estimates that voter ID could cost state and local governments from 30 to 50 million dollars to implement. Supporters of the amendment disagree with these estimates.

A Detroit Lakes area news outlet discusses the potential costs for Becker County. The auditor estimates it could cost the county up to $500,000.

Otter Tail county auditor Wayne Stein opined for the East Otter Tail Focus that “supporting legislation telling us how this would be implemented is currently missing.” This leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The Focus outlines a survey of Minnesota Association of County Officers. Estimated costs to implement the voter ID amendment vary depending on the size of the county and also depending on the number of mail-in voters. Small county estimates range from $55,000 -$120,000 and mid size counties range from$435,000-$965,000.

Those opposing the amendment say it would certainly eliminate same-day voter registration. These voters would likely have to vote with a provisional ballot and travel to their county seat to provide an ID later to get their vote counted.

The Amendment

What you will see on your ballot will read as follows: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?”

The actual language that would be part of the state constitution should the amendment pass would read: “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 the 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.”

Why Voter ID

Supporters say it is needed to eliminate voter fraud. Those that oppose the amendment say there is very minimal voter fraud and what there has been is almost entirely convicted felons who vote before they are eligible. It is argued that the photo ID will not identify this kind of fraud.

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