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Editorial: Voters should be aware of costs of voter ID

Published 10:03am Thursday, August 30, 2012

The proposed voter ID amendment to the Minnesota constitution has, understandably, sparked heated debate. Critics of such laws say they unfairly target minorities and others who aren’t as likely to have the necessary identification when going to the polls, and that the laws are unnecessary because voter fraud hasn’t been an issue in previous elections. Proponents of voter ID say such measures are common sense and necessary to ensure fair elections and that obtaining photo ID is not a particularly difficult task.

In Minnesota specifically, the voter ID debate has become personal. Amendment supporters grew incensed at and eventually took to court Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who attempted to change both the voter ID and marriage amendment ballot titles chosen by the Legislature. The state Supreme Court ruled against Ritchie in both cases on Monday.

We are not here to weigh in on every argument for or against the voter ID amendment; nor whether Ritchie had the authority to change the amendment titles. We are here, however, to emphasize something voters might not have fully taken into consideration yet: There’s no free lunch. If it passes, voter ID will cost money.

For Rice County that cost could amount to $120,000, according to Rice County auditor/treasurer Fran Windschitl. The price tag comes largely from the election equipment upgrades that would be necessary to verify voter data. Statewide estimates for the cost of voter ID vary but tend to run in the tens of millions of dollars.

The election costs associated with voter ID would essentially become another unfunded — or at least underfunded — mandate, the bane of local governments’ existence and a reason why many local governments are facing such tight budgets. In this case the mandate would involve an investment in upgraded equipment, but another mandate will only make those budgets tighter.

Taxpayers will, one way or another, ultimately bear the cost.

Amendment supporters will argue the importance of fair elections and the need to eliminate potential fraud outweighs the costs involved. And taxpayers may very well decide the cost is worth bearing. But taxpayers should at least be aware of what those costs are before heading to the polls in November.

— Faribault Daily News, Aug. 27