Voter ID is a Bad Investment for Maine

Recently, Maine has once again received unwelcome national media attention about unfounded charges of fraud in our exemplary voting system. In the 125th Legislature, similar charges led to the introduction of a bill, LD 199, to require prospective Maine voters to present an authorized photo ID before being allowed to exercise their right to vote.   On the one hand, voter IDs could save Maine the cost of prosecuting voter impersonation cases – rather, case (singular), since there has been only one in the last 30 years. On the other hand, by implementing such a law, the state of Maine must pay for a plan to ensure that no voting-aged citizen in Maine is disenfranchised by this law. Anything less will leave the law open to a court challenge.

Wisely, the legislature chose instead to authorize a Commission to Study the Conduct of Elections to hear testimony from Maine people about their priorities for rules to govern how Mainers vote.  Yesterday, MECEP released new report, “Maine Voter ID: At What Price? The Cost to Implement a Voter ID Law in Maine,” that we have submitted to the commission for their consideration.

MECEP estimates that implementation of a voter ID requirement in Maine could cost a minimum of $3.8 million in the first three years alone. Voter ID is not a cheap proposition for Maine because court challenges to voter ID laws in other states have created a high standard for implementation.  Not only must voter IDs be free, but documents required to obtain voter IDs must also be free, otherwise they constitute a poll tax.  Locations to obtain IDs must be easily accessible. For Mainers who live far from such locations or who have limited mobility (think people without cars or elderly folks in nursing homes), this means bringing the IDs to them with handicap-accessible mobile licensing units.

On top of all these costs, the secretary of state would have to undertake an extensive (and expensive), multi-year public education campaign that targets all age demographics in the voting population to make all voters aware of the new ID requirement and procedures for obtaining a new ID if they need one. Given the time required for people to collect the right documents and obtain an ID, this public outreach effort needs to start well in advance, and must cover at least one presidential and one gubernatorial election. Any fancy add-on options such as provisional ballots for people who show up to vote without acceptable forms of ID will further increase cost and staff time.

Spending $3.8 million to prevent one case of voter impersonation every 30 years is a bad investment. If we have an extra $3.8 million lying around in our election budget, it would be better to use it for maintaining and updating our electronic voting systems. We don’t need a new voter ID requirement. Maine’s current voting system already has a method for addressing voter impersonation that is cost-effective and sensible. Let’s keep it that way.

Christina Reinhard is a policy associate with MECEP and co-author with policy analyst Jody Harris of MECEP’s analysis of the costs to implement a voter ID law in Maine.