City: Voter ID costly mandatePublished 10:59am Friday, March 23, 2012
Requiring photo ID at the polls is a hot button issue in Minnesota, with a proposed constitutional amendment making its way through the state Legislature. While its merits are under debate in greater-populated areas, some election officials in Otter Tail County say it might end up doing more to create costs than to reduce voter fraud locally.
Republicans have argued that the photo ID requirement would not disenfranchise voters because a provisional ballot will be made available for those who do not provide ID (providing free IDs to those with low incomes is also under discussion). However, that provisional ballot amounts to an unfunded mandate, according to Fergus Falls Election Administrator Lynne Olson.
“We would probably have to hire an additional two election judges (per ward) and have a separate ballot box,” she said. The eight new judges would be tasked with checking IDs, and the separate ballot boxes would store the provisional ballots.
“Who’s going to pick up the cost?” she asked. “It’s going to be back on the taxpayers.”
Those provisional ballots might also affect how long it takes before an election outcome is announced. If the amendment makes it to the state constitution, those who voted with provisional ballots would be allowed to present their IDs and allow their votes to be counted for several days after Election Day. If there are a lot of provisional ballots and not very many votes between two candidates (like in 2010, when Jay Cichosz beat Tim Rundquist by one vote in a Fergus Falls City Council election), the outcome likely wouldn’t be known until the provisional ballot period expires, possibly followed by a recount.
“It might be a month and a half before someone can be declared a winner in some cases,” Olson said.
Though he thought most of the extra costs would be borne by municipalities or voting precincts, Otter Tail County Auditor Wayne Stein said the county could also face additional cost burdens, including additional envelope orders for the provisional ballots and more staffing hours for provisional ballot vote counters.
“Assuming there are people who are voting using the provisional ballot … we are going to be handling things days after the election is over,” he said.
Depending on how readily available the government-issed IDs are, Olson is also worried about Fergus Falls’ elderly population, as well as the city’s college students, who are eligible to vote in Fergus Falls if they register here. Many people in both populations, particularly the elderly, do not have photo IDs. Olson singled out permanent residents of nursing homes as a prime example.
“Right now, they’re able to (vote) with one of the caregivers who is able to vouch for them,” she said.
Another concern, said Stein, is that the specifics of the plan cannot be known yet.
“They haven’t actually laid out a lot of the detail as to how it would be implemented if it actually would get passed,” he said.
If the amendment is approved, the 2013 Legislature will hash out enforcement and regulations. The IDs would then be required either after the 2013 legislative session or sometime in 2014 (if some local government advocates are able to get the start date pushed back).
Longtime Fergus Falls election judge Vic Petterson said a photo ID requirement wouldn’t affect his township’s elections much, except that one more election judge might need to be hired.
“I think that in this area, it’s fine for rural Minnesota the way it is,” he said.
Petterson said verifying someone’s identity is pretty simple under the current system.
“If somebody doesn’t know you and they come in and they’ve got a gas slip, or … if a neighbor can vouch for you, you’re pretty easily verified,” he said.
Stein and Olson agreed that voter fraud does not appear to be an issue in the area, although Stein acknowledged that there may be problems he doesn’t know about.
“I am not in the precincts all day long on Election Day, and there may be some things happening that I’m not aware of where (photo ID) would have been beneficial,” he said.
Both Stein and Petterson recognized that voter ID issue encompasses far more than Otter Tail County. Neither wanted to pass judgment on whether the measure would help the election process in other parts of the state.
“Maybe in the (Twin) Cities or the bigger towns, it’s different,” said Petterson. “I don’t know.”