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May 24, 2012

Costs of Voter ID Come Home to Roost

At the time that the 2012 General Assembly was considering bills aimed at making sure that people who cast ballots in Virginia are, in fact, the people they claim to be, many legislators and proponents asserted costs would be minimal and  could be handled within the scope of the State Board of Election’s existing budget. In addition, proponents of the legislation said that the issue was critical to assure the integrity of the voting process. Fortunately, the most potentially costly of the bills was pulled from consideration. But two others passed and now have been signed into law. And with the announcement of the signing of the bills came two important admissions: 1) the cost of implementing the bill will start at $1.36 million; 2) “well over 99%” of voters comply with the existing identification requirements. That last point is important. It was the very last paragraph of the Governor’s press release, and hasn’t garnered so much as a mention in press coverage that we’ve seen. But it’s as close to an admission of a non-problem as you can get. In fact, according to the press release, “Virginia’s current voter ID law commands broad compliance. While comprehensive statewide statistics are not available, a survey of localities from the last presidential and gubernatorial elections in 2008 and 2009 indicate a compliance rate of well over 99%. Only a handful of voters per precinct, on average, do not bring an approved ID document.”

But as to costs, to be fair, it was the Governor’s executive decision to issue new cards to all voters. That provision wasn’t contained in the bill. The January 30th, 2012 fiscal impact statement prepared for one of the bills that was signed (HB9), stated that “Some voter outreach, including an organized information campaign may need to be developed by the State Board of Elections in order to inform voters of this change in law,” but that the State Board of Elections should “absorb” this cost.

Sending out new Voter ID cards wasn’t contained in our independent analysis, either. But even without that we estimated the cost to be between $522,263 and $1,258,959. Add in the Governor’s new expenditure and the cost estimate rises substantially. 

And there’s experience out there to prove it. When we look to other states that have tightened identification requirements for voting, substantial voter education/outreach campaigns have been conducted in order to survive Voting Rights Act and Constitutional challenge. Similarly, in many states with proposed tightening of voter identification requirements, the fiscal impact statements have included the cost of voter education and outreach.

For example, in Maryland(1) and North Carolina(2), the fiscal impact statements for bills that proposed stricter voter identification rules estimated education/outreach costs of $500,000 and $600,000, respectively. Adjusted for the relative size of the states’ populations, the proportionate costs in Virginia would be $698,275 and $501,030, respectively. With Virginia, like Maryland, having a significant share of its population in the expensive Washington, DC media market, it is likely that Virginia’s costs would be at the higher end of these ranges.

Staff Training
The original fiscal impact statement(3) for HB9 (which is no longer available on LIS but which we have posted here) stated a training cost of $1,050 in order to train local election officials in the handling of the new identification requirements and the handling of the new provisional ballots. Virginia has about 2,354 polling places and per Virginia code, there must be at least three election officers at each precinct: This means Virginia must have, at a minimum, 7,062 election officers who must be trained in the new procedures.

The median salary for personnel at the State Board of Elections is $49,950.(4) Assuming an additional 30 percent cost for health insurance, retirement, and vacation, total median cost for state board of elections employees is $64,935, or $31.22/hour. If the state is paying for training, rather than passing it off as an unfunded mandate on localities, by these estimates they are assuming it would take only 33.6 hours of staff time to train 7,062 election officers in how to implement the new procedures, or 17.1 seconds per official.

Other states have included staff training costs in their fiscal impact statements for recent photo identification legislation. Minnesota(5) estimated a cost of $30,500 for education of election officials, mostly to produce a training video and extend the election judge training session. Nevada(6) estimated a training cost of $17,000. Wisconsin(7) estimated a training cost of $395,536 due to the need for full-time state staff to provide ongoing support for the local election officials and judges. Adjusted for Virginia’s population, these estimates would mean a training cost in Virginia of between $21,233 and $560,684.

Provisional Ballots and Other Costs
Even if the state engages in comprehensive training and voter education efforts, drastic changes in voting law such as those now signed into law are likely to introduce a number of other costs. For example, the bills will shift voters who appear in the poll books, but do not have an approved form of ID, from official to provisional ballots. Although these provisional ballots arising from a lack of ID would be treated differently than other provisional ballots, they would still require more attention than official ballots. While the per unit cost of these new provisional ballots is difficult to estimate, the January 30th, 2012 fiscal impact statement for HB9’s assumption that all costs can be absorbed by the State Board of Elections is unrealistic given that this legislation would prompt a marked increase in the number of provisional ballots that require staff time and resources to process.

In addition to the processing costs associated with new provisional ballots, such a major change in voting laws is likely to create both confusion and delays at the polls. Finally, because Virginia is subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, these laws will have to undergo pre-clearance from the Department of Justice. Defending this legislation could become extremely costly(8), as other states that have imposed greater voter identification restrictions have spent years in court attempting to defend them.(9)

1 Maryland HB 288, 2011 Session,
2 North Carolina HB 351, 2011 Session,
3 This original fiscal impact statement appears to no longer be available on the LIS website. TCI has posted a copy at
4 Richmond Times-Dispatch Salaries of State Employees 2011 database,
5 Minnesota HF 2010, 2011 Session,
6 Nevada BDR 24-778, 2011 Session,
7 Wisconsin SB 6, 2011 Session,
8 Press accounts report that South Carolina could spend more than $1 million in its suit challenging the U.S. Dept of Justice’s refusal to pre-clear that state’s photo ID bill.
9 See, for example, Georgia’s case history, Common Cause/GA v. Billups (Common Cause I), 406 F. Supp. 2d 1326 (N.D. Ga. 2005); Common Cause/GA v. Billups (Common Cause III), 504 F.Supp.2d 1333 (N.D. Ga. 2007), 554 F.3d 1340 (11th Cir. 2009).

The Commonwealth Institute

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