Taxpayer cost of voter photo ID amendment debated

8:24 PM, Oct 10, 2012   |    comments
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  • SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Most of the debate over the proposed voter photo ID amendment has focused on whether Minnesota actually has a voter impersonation problem.

    That has led to arguments over whether legitimate voters will be disenfranchised because they can no longer produce the types of documents needed to get a free ID provide for in the amendment.

    But the question of how much it will cost to implement the new system, should voters approve the amendment, is also a matter of debate. The chief author of the bill, State Rep Mary Kiffmeyer, has told KARE the voting system won't place an undue burden local communities.

    She repeated that Tuesday night in a debate with former Gov. Arne Carlson, saying the only costs will be educating voters and issuing I-D cards to those who don't have valid, current government-issue identification.

    "The expected cost that is connected with voter ID is the free state ID," Rep. Kiffmeyer said.  "That is the expected cost."

    If the free I-D is the only new cost, what would the taxpayers pay?

    According to the Minnesota Dept. of Public Safety, it costs the state $9.85 to produce one ID.  The amount charged individuals is higher because those fees support the staff and other operating costs for Driver and Vehicle Services.

    If the state were to issue free ID cards to the roughly 84-thousand Minnesota voters who no longer have valid ID, that would add up to $827,000.  If the state were to issue new voter ID cards to all eligible voters, the cost would be significantly higher.

    Kiffmeyer and the other sponsors of the legislation anticipated that voters would have their identities and length of residency at their voting addresses verified.  That information was to be on the special Voter ID Cards proponents envision in House Bill 210, the original legislation vetoed by Governor Dayton

    Proponents have said the new system would guard against released felons voting before their probation ends by having voters' names cross-checked against the database of felons still on probation who are ineligible to vote.

    "All levels of local government are concerned about the implementation and the cost of it," Jeff Spartz of the Association of Minnesota Counties told KARE.

    "And we've seen nothing to indicate the state will pay these significant costs that cities and counties would incur."

    The counties group asked county auditors and other local community elections administrators across the state how much they expect to spend to implement the new system.

    That study, done with the assistance of graduate students at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, came up with a range of $25 million to $35 million.

    The estimate included a caveat that much is still unknown about how the new system will operate. The legislature must still pass legislation that will fill in the blanks in the amendment.

    "One proposal has been the electronic poll book, but you'd need those in virtually every precinct in the state and that's a considerable expense," Spartz explained.

    "Presumably it would be hooked into the Internet to make is work properly, and in a number of townships out in rural Minnesota you don't have good wireless coverage."

    The photo ID test run at the Republican Caucus in Stillwater featured drivers license scanners connected to computers. That type of equipment currently does not exist at Minnesota's 4,130 polling places.

    In fact the state's system for tracking offenders doesn't store real-time information on whether they've completed probation. And those data servers currently don't communicate directly with the servers that store voter registrations and histories.

    Another potentially significant expense cited by local elections officials is the cost of segregating provisional voters from regular voters, and verifying the identities of the provisional voters.

    The amendment provides that those who don't have acceptable ID will cast provisional ballots, and those will be counted after those voters' identities are verified.  Those provisional voters may be given several days after the election to return with required documents, and only then will their ballots be counted. 

    In the current system any case of voter fraud would be detected after that voter's anonymous ballot has already been cast and counted.  The amendment creates a provisional balloting system, as a means of stopping fraudulent votes from being counted.

    Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman's staff estimated that the new system would cost the city's taxpayers $870,000 over the 2013-2014 fiscal cycle, known as a biennium.  That includes a projected $115,000 in city property taxes, plus $755,000 in Ramsey county property taxes paid by homeowners and businesses in the Capital City.

    There is no mention of computers or Internet connections in the voter ID ballot question, or the wording of the actual amendment.  In fact, Republican Sen. Scott Newman last week criticized Secretary of State Mark Ritchie for including computers in his own estimates of the costs.

    "We rejected poll books. There's no electronic poll books in this amendment."

    The Taxpayers League of Minnesota, a conservative political nonprofit organization, plans to launch a series of radio ads challenging the notion that the transition to a voter photo ID system will be costly.

    (Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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