Local/State

Proposed voter ID could be too costly

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Legislative staff has come up with a non-partisan fiscal note on voter identification. On the high end, it shows the cost to the state could be two-and-a-half million dollars. But critics say that's way under what other states have reported and isn't close to what the actual cost may be.

The fiscal note offers a range of what requiring voters to show identification at the polls could cost.

On the low end the cost is almost $850,000, and on the high end, the cost is almost $2.5 million.

There are a lot of unknowns such as what it would cost counties.

"What's shocking about this estimate, it's full of lines like 'could not be determined,' 'could not be estimated,' 'was not included in this estimate,'" said Chris Kromm, Institute for Southern Studies.

Kromm is director of the Institute of Southern Studies. He says the unknowns in the report are a problem, but even more concerning is how much is budgeted for voter education -- $500,000.

"It's absurdly low," Kromm said. "It's absolutely ridiculous. You don't want to cut corners. You want to make sure that voters know what's happening. That they're properly educated with TV ads, newspaper ads, mailings to the voters, you need to do it right."

Republicans say they intend to do it right.

"Our intent is to have a multi-media campaign to reach as large and diverse of a population as we can possibly reach," said Republican David Lewis, Harnett County.

Lewis is the bill's sponsor and says he's realistic about what that will take. He says $500,000 is not enough.

Lewis says they will be thrifty, getting the word out through inserts in utility bills, state mailings and PSAs. He says that will do the trick, but Kromm says other states with voter ID laws have seen much higher costs. In some cases, the costs are between $10 million and $20 million.

"All these other fiscal notes that we analyzed, from Wisconsin to Texas to Missouri, they went line by line," Kromm explained. "What would it cost to put in the newspaper ads? What would it cost for radio announcements? They didn't do that in North Carolina, and they're not informing North Carolina voters about what it would really cost."

Many Republicans say whatever the cost, ensuring voters are who they say they are, is worth it.

The bill is changing, but what's not likely to change is that $500,000 for voter education.

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