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Two-tiered Voting System Imposes Huge Costs on Cash-strapped States

J. Mijin Cha

Last week, I wrote about the “separate but equal” two-tiered voting system that Arizona and Kansas want to implement that would create two separate ballots for elections; one with federal, state and local races for eligible voters who show proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate or passport, and another with only federal races for remaining voters. Showing proof of citizenship is overly onerous and voters already have to attest to their citizenship when they register to vote. The system is an unncessary burden and now, an unnecessary cost. New estimates show that the two-tiered system will cost cash-strapped states hundreds of thousand of dollars.

In Maricopa County alone, election officials estimate the new system will cost at least an additional $250,000. Considering the county has budgeted only $3.5 million to $4 million for the 2014 election cycle, the additional cost of the new system diverts scarce resources away from things like voter outreach and ensuring polling places are run smoothly.

The preliminary cost breakdown includes:

  • Setting up and printing dual ballots for the primary election—for which 3,620 ballot styles already are necessary to accommodate 724 precincts and five recognized political parties—will cost nearly $190,000. 
  • Similarly, printing dual ballots for the general election will cost the county almost $40,000. 
  • Sending an informational letter to the nearly 1,000 county voters affected by the decision will cost $5,000. 

Additional costs that will likely push the total over $250,000 include:

  • Printing ballots in every style for pre-election testing and duplication. 
  • Changing voter look-up tools, identifying federal-only voters, and restricting their ability to request ballots in local races. 
  • Hiring more staff for ballot design, proofing, and testing. 
  • Providing extra training for poll workers and Election Day troubleshooters.  

These voter suppression laws are imposing unnecessary costs and burdens on state and local counties. They add another layer of red tape and bureaucracy that impedes the freedom to vote. Even Judge Posner, who originally upheld voter-ID laws, admits these laws are meant to disenfranchise voters.

The two-tiered system is nothing but bad--costly, bureaucratic, and with the potential to strip the right to vote from eligible voters.