While requirements for voter ID may sound reasonable at first glance, the bills being pushed in Virginia go beyond any reasonable requirements and are far too restrictive and expensive to deserve support.
A restrictive photo ID law and proof of citizenship registration requirement could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Virginians. Large numbers of American citizens – disproportionately among certain demographic groups – do not possess a valid, government-issued photo ID, or the documents required to get a photo ID.
The elderly, persons of color, young people and low-income voters are much less likely to have government-issued photo identification than the rest of the population, and younger voters with ID are less likely to have ID with their current addresses and legal names.
Requiring proof of citizenship when someone registers to vote is also highly burdensome. A national survey found that 7 percent of U.S. citizens do not have a birth certificate, passport, or naturalization certificate readily available. Assuming that 7 percent share is the same in Virginia as in the nation as a whole, an estimated 388,114 Virginians would not be able to register to vote without the burden of having to track down – and pay for – replacement documents. This burden will fall hardest on particular populations.
Allowing voters without a sanctioned ID to vote a provisional ballot is not a good answer. For a variety of reasons that depend on the discretion of local election officials, provisional ballots are frequently not counted. In 2010, only 42 percent of the provisional ballots cast in Virginia were counted fully, while 56.8 percent of provisional ballots cast were not counted. This is much worse than the national average. Provisional ballots are not a solution.
If the photo ID and proof of citizenship laws were to pass, there are significant fiscal costs that Virginia would have to bear in order for the laws to have the possibility of withstanding a constitutional challenge. Missouri estimated its costs for a proposed photo ID law at $6 million for the first year and $4 million per year thereafter. Indiana spent $12.2 million over four years implementing its voter ID law. Virginia has hundreds of thousands more voters than Missouri or Indiana, and can expect to incur even higher costs to meet the standards for implementation required by the courts.
Free Voter ID Cards
Virginia charges between $12 and $32 for a driver’s license, and $10 for an identification card.The state would be required to provide free IDs for any Virginia citizens who need it in order to vote. The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued nearly three-quarters of a million free photo IDs from 2007-2010. Indiana had to spend over $10 million to provide the IDs, significantly more than it had budgeted.
No ID Is Really "Free"
It is costly and time-consuming to collect the documents necessary for obtaining a “free” state photo ID. To get a driver’s license or identification card Virginians are required to present two proofs of identity, one proof of Virginia residency, one proof of legal presence in the U.S., and, if applicable, one proof of social security number, all of which may cost money to obtain. Some of the bills being considered would require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Obtaining a passport costs $100, naturalization papers cost $380, and birth certificates cost $12 in Virginia. The Missouri Supreme Court struck down that state’s photo ID law under the Missouri Constitution, finding that the costs of obtain- ing the documents necessary to get a photo ID constituted an illegal poll tax. Further, to obtain a birth certificate a voter has to show particular forms of identification, which could create an insurmountable Catch-22, effectively stripping citizens of their ability to vote.
Expanded ID Services
IDs must be readily available to all voters, the state may need to expand the numbers and operational hours of Virginia’s DMVs to provide appropriate access. Currently, many Virginia DMV offices are not open on the weekend, and don’t have evening hours. This could increase the Virginia DMV budget. This may also entail creating mobile ID centers to ensure voters, such as those in nursing homes and those with disabilities can obtain IDs.
Extensive Public Education
If a state chooses to enact photo ID or proof of citizenship requirements it is constitutionally bound to undertake a lengthy, extensive public education campaign to inform voters of the new requirements. In 2010, Missouri estimated it would cost $16.9 million for TV, radio and newspaper announcements and other outreach to the state’s 4 million voters. The Institute for Southern Studies estimated it could cost North Carolina $14 million or more over three years to inform its 6 million voters. Virginia has 5,032,521 registered voters, and there is no reason to think that a program to reach them would be any less expensive.
Outreach to Voters
States are responsible for identifying and targeting populations of eligible voters without IDs to assist them in obtaining the necessary IDs. In order to ensure this was satisfied for Georgia’s voters, the Secretary of State’s office sent mailings over multiple election cycles to the hundreds of thousands of voters believed to lack drivers licenses. The Secretary of State also aired public service announcements extensively on radio and television informing voters of the photo ID requirement. Information was distributed to public libraries and other public facilities across the state, as well as through a partnership with the utility companies. All of this imposes costs on stretched state budgets.
Implementation Costs for Materials, Staff & Training
The implementation costs should not be underestimated. They will require long-term attention for months before elections, and will continue up to and including Election Day, putting heavy burdens on the 2,363 precincts statewide.They may include: modifying the statewide voter registration database; purchasing necessary equipment; updating registration forms; updating websites; redesigning provisional ballot envelopes; and, providing more provisional ballots and envelopes. Statewide training on changes will be necessary, including new absentee ballot and provisional ballot scenarios. These new bureaucratic hurdles may also require the hiring of additional staff to prepare and process the increased paperwork.
In Iowa, a bi-partisan group of county election administrators opposed a photo ID bill as an “unfunded mandate” on counties, who would bear the burden of educating the public and implementing the requirements. In Wisconsin, the head of the municipal clerks association testified as to how much of a strain the photo ID bill then under consideration would put on the local officials, and said if it was passed they would have to choose between spending resources to implement it or on providing services, positions and machinery for emergency operations in a timely manner.
Litigation Defense Costs
Defending these laws is costly. Many of the states that have sought to impose burdensome restrictions on voting rights have had to spend years in court attempting to defend the law. Courts repeatedly ruled that inadequate public education efforts invalidated the Georgia voter ID law.
The parts of Virginia that are subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act will have to undergo pre- clearance. Since these laws have discriminatory impacts on minority and other vulnerable populations it will take significant resources to attempt to defend these laws, with little prospect of success. It is estimated that South Carolina may spend over $1 million in its suit against the U.S. Department of Justice, which refused to pre-clear the state’s photo ID law.
The Current System is Working
Current state law allows voters who don’t have identification to sign an affidavit swearing that they are the registered voter they claim to be, under penalty of law. Perjury is a felony in Virginia, and punishments range from imprisonment for up to a decade to potentially thousands of dollars in fines. These substantial deterrents have effectively protected the integrity of Virginia’s elections.
Virginia legislators pushing these bills cite the need to guard against voter fraud. Despite the constant drumbeat in the last several years causing an atmosphere of fear and acute awareness around this issue, numerous high level investigations have found there has been no evidence of anything but isolated instances of fraud. AARP Virginia opposes these bills that would burden the voting rights of older Virginians because they are “based on the unfounded assertion that voter fraud is a significant problem. There is currently no evidence that voter fraud is a problem in Virginia.”
Instead of focusing on a costly, anti-democratic, misguided solution to a nonexistent problem, Virginia’s legislators should turn their attention to creating jobs, saving homes, and providing healthcare and education to Virginians.