The Real Cost of the GOP’s Push for Voter ID Laws

Studies show that up to 11 percent of citizens don't have a photo identification. But why bother with details?

By Jamilah King Jan 31, 2011

Texas lawmakers are pushing forward with new state Voter ID legislation that will name the types of identification that will be acceptable at the polls. Local news stations are reporting that student ID’s issued by the state’s colleges and universities are missing from the new bill. Now voting rights advocates are even growing more concerned that the GOP’s real aim is to slowly dismantle hard fought voting rights.

Currently, the proposed bill includes five forms of identification that voters would be allowed to show at the polls, including a driver’s license, state ID card, military ID, concealed handgun license and passport. University of Texas Arlington student paper The Shorthorn reports that the Republican-backed bill must first pass the House, where the GOP holds a substantial majority.

The effort is part of much larger push by Republicans nationwide to enact stronger Voter ID legislation. In addition to Texas, party leaders are already in talks to introduce similar bills in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin. But as Chris Kromm wrote last week at the Institute for Southern Studies, each bill comes at a substantial cost.

Take Texas, for instance. The state faces a budget shortfall of over $10 billion. But Republican Gov. Rick Perry declared voter ID a legislative emergency to help fast-track the bill. All this despite little evidence of actual voter fraud, and plenty to suggest that the laws will end up costing states millions of dollars that they don’t have. Kromm writes that officials in Missouri estimated last year that a similar program there could cost the state’s taxpayers $20 million over three years.

And there’s more:

Studies show that up to 11% of citizens don’t have a photo ID. Forcing voters to buy cards has made states the target of lawsuits claiming such costs amount to a modern-day poll tax. To solve the problem, many states now issue free ID cards, but it’s expensive: In 2009, Wisconsin (3.5 million voters) projected a total $2.4 million cost [pdf]; Missouri estimated $3.4 million [pdf].

So what’s behind the push? Surely it’s at least partially an effort to gear up for the 2012 presidential elections. But criticism of the Voter ID bills often falls starkly along party lines. While Republicans say that they’re necessary to combat growing fraud, there’s little to suggest rampant fraud is actually taking place. Meanwhile, Democrats argue that there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it’s the elderly, African American, and Latino voters who are most likely to vote without the types of identification that’s being required in the new legislation.

Voting rights advocates put the current debate over Voter ID’s on the historical continuum of the kinds of voter intimidation that was instrumental in galvanizing the civil rights movement of the 1960s and passing the Voting Rights Act of 1964.

Andres Tijerina, a history professor at Austin Community College, told reporters in Texas that the state’s brutal voting history is impossible to ignore. "Texas has a history and a legacy of voter intimidation and discrimination," Tijerina told reporters, citing times when Texas Rangers shot Mexican-Americans for voting and lynch mobs attacked black and Latino voters throughout the state, and the rest of the south.