Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More Than Just a Voter ID Bill

There's been a lot of discussion over Minnesota's proposed voter ID bill (H.F.210). Yesterday the issue elicited a large number of responses as MPR's question of the day. Those for it argue that we'll never be guaranteed fair elections without it and those opposed say it's nothing but voter suppression. But we do ourselves a disservice if we are only discussing the voter ID aspect of this bill. There are many other questionable provisions it contains. The Uptake has a good summary of what is in the bill that I wanted to highlight here.

  • Changes documents allowed to register
  • Requires Department of Public Safety to provide free IDs to those that need them
  • Any voter who cannot provide a photo ID must cast a provisional ballot
  • Establishes provisional voting guidelines
  • Failure to check citizenship or age box on voter registration causes form to be deficient
  • Prohibits voters from receiving assistance at the ballot from a guardian, conservator, or any paid individual who provides health care (a big hurdle for the disabled)
  • Allows political buttons to be worn in the polling place as long as they are not designed to influence votes on a candidate/question on that ballot (a wink to the Minnesota Majority if ever there was one)
  • Repeals the designation of incumbents on judicial ballots
  • Requires at least two electronic rosters in every precinct unless it has fewer than 100 voters.
  • Any precinct needing more than two rosters would have to get them at local expense.
  • Initial costs for each precinct's two machines paid for by the state. Subsequent costs and maintenance would be covered locally (bill says this would be covered by the cost savings of using the new system)

Apart from the obvious measures that deter voters by placing additional hoops for them to jump through in order to vote, here is my biggest problem with the bill: Is it cost effective? Do the minute number of actual voter fraud cases in the state of Minnesota justify the expense that will be incurred by this bill?

A large portion of that expense comes not from having to provide free IDs (in order to avoid an illegal poll tax) but from having to purchase two electronic rosters for every precinct in the state with more than 100 voters. Overall, the cost requirements for the state, though not listed, must easily be in the millions. This bill clearly says that the state will pay for the machines but contains no appropriation lines that indicate just how they will be paid for. And for the large precincts that would need additional machines beyond the two covered by the state, what would be their cost?

The electronic rosters create a whole slew of additional problems when considering our rural districts. The bill creates minimum standards of network response times, which could be challenging for some precincts. Apart from that, think about the scene when you go to vote. What appears to be the average age of most poll workers? In all the precincts I have ever lived in, I would be comfortable saying 60-70 yrs old is probably an accurate average age of the poll workers I encounter. Many people in that generation are not nearly as comfortable with computers as younger generations are. For some, it will be a big leap to go from  flipping through a binder and asking someone to sign on a line to helping them to use electronic equipment. What will be the necessary training? Will it be above and beyond what is currently required in order to address the new technology? How will you ensure that these workers are not only able to facilitate use of this equipment, but to troubleshoot any problems they may encounter?

Some say it's worth it to prevent fraud. I would encourage you to read MinnPost's article on that issue from last session. In that article David Schultz, professor of government ethics and election law at Hamline University, discusses studies that he and other organizations have done. The conclusion? "There is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem that has affected any recent elections, including in Minnesota."

The article goes on to say, "The most comprehensive study so far on voter fraud largely dismisses its existence. A report by the bipartisan United States Election Commission concluded there was "little polling place fraud," including voter impersonation, "dead" voters, noncitizen voting, and felon voters. The main abuses were absentee-ballot fraud and efforts to intimidate voters on Election Day. None of this will be cured by photo IDs when voting."

So, what are we really paying for? Is it worth it?

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