Hidden costs of “free” photo voter IDs

Once again, the Missouri legislature is attempting to change election laws by restricting voting to people who can present approved, state-issued photo identification. And, once again, legislators are pretending that photo-voter ID would be “free.” That’s simply not so.

The latest voter-disenfranchisement bill [Voter Photo Identification, SB 3] flies in the face of a Missouri Supreme Court decision that struck down an almost identical effort in 2006. In that ruling, the court said that the photo-ID law violated the fundamental right to vote as provided by the state constitution. Unfortunately, that definitive judicial smackdown has not stopped Missouri lawmakers from trying again.

Under this year’s proposed bill, acceptable forms of photo ID would be limited to:

  • a non-expired Missouri driver’s license;
  • a non-expired or non-expiring Missouri non-driver’s license;
  • any identification containing a photograph issued by the Missouri National Guard, the United States armed forces, or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs; or
  • a document issued by the United States or the state of Missouri containing the name of the voter which substantially conforms to the most recent signature in the individual’s voter registration records, a photograph, and an expiration date or if expired, the expiration is after the date of the most recent general election.

What’s different here? A lot. The proposed list is considerably shorter and more restrictive than the current  range of forms of ID that are currently accepted at Missouri polling places.

Under current law, you can vote by showing a driver’s license or state ID card from any state. You don’t have to have a photo ID: You can use the [non-photo] voter registration card issued by your county election commission. You can bring a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government document that contains your name and address. Or, you can show your [non-photo] student ID from a Missouri college or university—either public or private.

Bottom line, for many Missouri citizens, the proposed voter photo ID bill makes it significantly harder to vote.

Who’s left out?

The effect would be to disqualify a large section of the voting public. According to a recent study published by Demos:

A photo ID law could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Missourians. Two national surveys have found that large numbers of American citizens -disproportionately among certain demographic groups – do not possess a valid, government-issued photo ID, or the required documents for a photo ID (e.g. birth certificate or passport). Secretary Carnahan too has identified as many as 240,000 registered Missouri voters – mostly the elderly, disabled, poor and minority voters – who lacked a government-issued photo ID through statewide database-matching in 2008 and 2009. More recently, the Department of Revenue estimated 253,496 registered voters in Missouri do not have photo identification on file with the Department of Revenue.

Get out your checkbook, and wait your turn

To get a “free” photo-voter ID in Missouri, a voter would have to jump through a number of bureaucratic hoops—many of which involve fees. Here’s a tally of the costs that could be associated with getting that “free” ID.

To get a voter-photo ID in Missouri, if you don’t already have one, you would have to present ALL of the following documents that apply to you:

Type of proof Document Cost Waiting period?
Proof of lawful presence Certified birth certificate $5 – $30 Up to 10 weeks
Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship $345 for replacement copy
Proof of lawful identity Social Security Card $0, but need birth certificate
Proof of residence Current utility bill or government check with address $0
Proof of name change [if applicable] Marriage license, Divorce decree, court order, adoption papers,  amended birth certificate Marriage license: $15Divorce decree: $10

Proof of lawful residence is among the most problematic requirements, as many Americans do not have their birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers readily at hand.

As reported by Demos,

A national survey conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation found that 5.7 percent of the native-born adult population does not have a birth certificate or US passport at home. Assuming that this 5.7 percent share is the same in Missouri as in the nation as a whole, an estimated 238,000 Missourians would not be able to obtain the required photo ID to cast a ballot.

In addition, the survey results show how certain demographic groups would be disproportionately affected by a photo ID law because they are much less likely to have the necessary documents to acquire a photo ID. These vulnerable populations include people without a high school diploma (9.2 percent of whom lack the documents), rural residents (9.1 percent), African Americans (8.9 percent), households with incomes below $25,000 (8.1 percent), and the elderly (7.4 percent). Assuming that the above percentages are the same for Missouri as for the nation as a whole, a photo ID requirement would potentially disenfranchise:

  • more than 90,000 rural residents;
  • 70,000 low-income residents;
  • 50,000 residents without a high school diploma;
  • 50,000 elderly residents; and
  • 40,000 African Americans.

State budget would take a hit, too

“Free” photo voter IDs won’t be free for Missouri state government either. The fiscal note on SB3 pegs the cost of implementing photo IDs at $21.2 million. Under the proposed law, Missouri would not charge residents for the non-driver photo ID itself. The costs would come from reduced income to the Missouri Department of Revenue, which currently charges $11 for a non-driver photo ID, and from the money that would need to be budgeted for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office for an educational campaign about the new rules and for training election workers to implement them.

Why bother?

Proponents of Missouri’s proposed photo-voter ID law say that it’s about protecting against voter fraud. But, in fact, according to Missouri’s Secretary of State, there has not been a single, documented case of voter impersonation in the state. Anyone who has ever served at a voting precinct as an election worker knows that there are many safeguards and political checks and balances already in place to make sure that voters are who they say they are. In addition, severe penalties are already on the books for voter impersonation. Under the current rules for voter identification, mass voter impersonation campaigns are highly unlikely.  So, the voter-fraud rationale for photo voter ID is clearly a ruse for the real motivation: suppressing the vote among certain demographic groups.

Photo voter ID, already struck down once as unconstitutional by Missouri’s own Supreme Court, is a repressive, anti-democratic law that Missouri doesn’t need and, oh, by the way, can’t pay for.