Debate over photo ID at the polls shifts to costs

Calculation of associated costs varies greatly from state to state

Controversy over requiring voters to provide photo identification at the polls is nothing new. Electionline began its coverage of the issue (PDF) nearly a decade ago, prior to the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002.

Since HAVA became law, pitched legislative battles have been fought in numerous statehouses over ID rules. Democrats have generally fought such measures, voicing concerns about the potential disenfranchisement of voters. Republicans have generally supported them, saying they will help prevent voter fraud.

This year, though, a new wrinkle has been added to the debate – how much it will cost to implement these requirements. Most states are facing serious fiscal challenges and large budget shortfalls. Opponents of photo ID legislation have seized on this point to buttress their arguments against these new requirements.

“Implementing photo ID will add both costs and burdens to those trying to run a good election system,” said Tova Wang, senior democracy fellow at Demos.
At least one election official sees it differently, though.

“I have tons of cost issues as we prepare for 2012, but, really, photo ID cost concerns don’t even make the top 10, maybe even the top 25,” said Brian Newby, elections commissioner of Johnson County, Kansas, a state where photo ID legislation has passed in the House and has moved to the Senate for consideration.

Fiscal impact

How states estimate the costs of implementing photo ID legislation varies widely.

Electionline found 14 states with proposed legislation in 2011 requiring photo ID at the polls that also provided official fiscal notes or fiscal impact statements. Nearly a dozen more states have also seen photo ID legislation introduced this year but fiscal notes were not found for these bills. (For detailed information, see the National Conference of State Legislatures’ – NCSL – 2011 elections legislation database.)

These estimates vary widely in content and scope. The price tag is anywhere from “negligible” or “unable to estimate” in some states to nearly $10 million in Missouri over two fiscal years, which includes lost revenue due to issuing free photo IDs. In Nebraska the statement is one page, while in Wisconsin estimates provided by different agencies combine to run 17 pages.

“It goes without saying that the fiscal analysis process is idiosyncratic to each state,” said, Alex Schatz, fiscal analyst for the Colorado Legislative Council who authored his state’s fiscal impact statement.

Below is a brief summary of these fiscal estimates:

Note, most links are to PDF documents

Colorado – The costs to revise, print, and distribute election materials will be absorbed within appropriations provided by the annual budget process. The bill will increase the workload of county clerks.

Iowa – There will be a revenue loss of $173,000 in fiscal year 2012 and $345,000 each year thereafter to reflect the cost of providing identification cards at no charge for the current level of customers.

Kansas – $68,500 total over fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012.

Maine – An annual general fund cost of $256,000 to manufacture additional identification cards. There would also be a reduction in highway fund revenue of $69,000 per year to eliminate the fees currently collected on identification cards.

Maryland – Costs of voter outreach over the course of fiscal year 2012 and 2013 may total at least $500,000. Issuing free ID cards could decrease revenues by approximately $825,000 in fiscal year 2012. Annualized revenue decreases would total approximately $1.6 million. Expenditures may increase for local boards of elections as well.

Minnesota - Fiscal year 2012 – $422,000; Fiscal year 2013 – $ 2,848,000; fiscal year 2014 – $37,000; fiscal year 2015 – $1,498,000.

Missouri – Fiscal year 2013 – $6,679,780; Fiscal year 2014 – $3,179,402;

Nebraska – The Secretary of State estimates no fiscal impact. The Department of Motor Vehicles estimates revenue loss due to the issuance of such identification cards at no cost for indigent individuals. Any revenue loss should be negligible.

New Hampshire – This bill repeals the fee collected for issuance of non-driver picture identification cards. It is estimated this repeal may reduce fee collections by $240,830 per year.

New Mexico – Although the Department of Taxation and Revenue did not respond with information, there will be costs to the agency as it expected to provide free photo ID cards. There are also additional costs for voter education and precinct board training.

South Carolina – $720,000 total. Recurring costs of approximately $260,000, including $100,000 for photo ID supplies and $160,000 for additional absentee ballots. Non-recurring costs are estimated at $460,000. This includes $85,000 for voter education and training as well as $375,000 for 50 camera stations at $7,500 each. The estimated impact on local government is none.

Tennessee – Requires a voter to present one form of name and photo ID when voting in person and authorizes any voter unable to obtain proper ID due to indigence or religious objection to execute an affidavit of identity prior to voting. The estimated fiscal impact is described as not significant because the secretary of state will not need more resources to implement photo ID.

Texas – The total fiscal impact of the bill is estimated to be $2 million for fiscal year 2012 out of the general revenue fund.  This estimate includes $500,000 to research and develop ways to inform the public of the new identification requirements.  Additional costs are estimated to be $1.5 million for media advertisements.

Wisconsin – The net loss of annual revenue will be $2,736,832 for providing free IDs. Additionally there will be a one-time cost over a two-year period estimated at $2,082,259 to implement photo ID.

Estimating Costs

NCSL surveyed states on their fiscal note processes and found different requirements (or lack thereof) to create fiscal notes and different approaches to how these notes are generated.

Schatz detailed how the process works in Colorado.

“Our estimates are direct cost assessments based on responsive data in a survey of affected state and local agencies. Our estimates are also based on a fundamental focus on cost to implement a bill relative to existing law. For example, a few more people will probably get photo IDs in Colorado if HB 1003 passes into law. However, the overall impact on issuance of photo IDs by the DMV and other issuing agencies is minimal and can be absorbed within their existing capacity,” he stated.

He added that voter education was taken into account in the estimate and noted how these tasks are already undertaken by state and local election officials. And when it comes to the impact on local governments costs, Schatz described how they did not have firm numbers as county clerks did not supply them.

Of course states are not the only entities looking at the cost implications of legislation.

Advocacy groups opposed to photo ID requirements including Demos, the Brennan Center for Justice and Facing South/The Institute for Southern Studies have released their own analyses. For example, the Institute for Southern Studies estimates that photo ID legislation in North Carolina (as of press time no state fiscal note has been released for H352) could cost the state upwards of $25 million over three years. And Demos has described some of the state fiscal estimates as being unrealistically low.


Reprinted with permission from the Pew Center on the States and Sean Green

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