A healthy civic society requires protecting citizens’ fundamental right to vote while ensuring the integrity of our electoral system. Sadly, this goal is being jeopardized by a coordinated, nationwide effort to enact voter ID laws that will not solve the challenges facing our electoral systems and will instead disenfranchise voters and infringe upon the fundamental American right to free and fair elections.
Proponents of voter ID laws claim that they will reduce fraud. We agree that preventing voter fraud is extremely important. That is why dozens of states and the federal government have created safeguards to ensure voter integrity and passed laws imposing stiff penalties on individuals who commit voter fraud. We should vigorously enforce those laws.
However, it is a grave mistake and a waste of precious resources to enact voter ID laws that target only one extremely rare type of voter fraud — Election Day polling place impersonations — and leave in their wake millions of disenfranchised voters.
Let’s look at the facts. The Justice Department under George W. Bush launched a massive, five-year investigation into voter fraud that resulted in a paltry 86 convictions across the entire country. Similarly, a three-year study conducted by Professor Lori Minnite of Barnard College showed that not only is voter fraud a very rare phenomenon, but the vast majority of cases involved people who were either ineligible to vote at all or had voted more than once in an election. Voter ID laws, which only target voter impersonation, would not have done anything to prevent these instances of fraud.
However, the costs of implementing these laws are very real. States must undertake massive public information campaigns, retrain poll workers, account for longer lines on Election Day, and issue millions of free IDs to citizens to avoid running afoul of constitutional mandates. This has the potential to increase electoral costs in some states by as much as 50 percent — tens of millions of dollars.
Over four years, Indiana’s strict voter ID law cost taxpayers more than $10 million just to issue new IDs. Estimates by other states projected additional implementation costs of up to $25.2 million in North Carolina over three years, $16.9 million in Missouri over three years.
According to a recent study, it would cost Maryland nearly $100,000 just to hire and train poll workers in order to ensure that any voter ID laws are properly followed, or else potentially face a massive wave of expensive and protracted litigation. Of course, implementing any new law would cost the state tens of millions to issue free IDs, among other education- and election-related expenses.
Given the current fiscal climates in our states, these are unnecessary expenses that taxpayers simply cannot afford. And the likely result is not worth the cost.