From CPP partner: Facing South/Institute for Southern Studies

Editor’s note: A version of this report appeared on It was originally published Feb. 2, before the state’s budget gap was reduced from $3.7 billion to $2.4 billion.

Today, Facing South and the Institute for Southern Studies released an analysis [pdf] showing that a voter ID bill proposed by North Carolina Republicans could cost the state $20 million or more over the next three years, exacerbating the state’s $3.7 billion budget gap.

Drawing on data from other states, the Facing South/Institute for Southern Studies report concludes that an effective voter ID program could end up costing North Carolina taxpayers $18 to $25 million over three years, just slightly more than the estimated price tag for a similar measure in Missouri.

The report follows up on a Facing South analysis last week, which documented how GOP leaders are aggressively pushing voter ID bills in at least nine states despite growing evidence that the bills could prove costly to cash-strapped states.

In North Carolina, which faces a budget shortfall of over $3 billion, likely expenses would include:

VOTER EDUCATION: State officials agree that voter ID laws require aggressive publicity efforts to inform voters and ensure they aren’t turned away at the polls. In 2010, Missouri estimated it would cost $16.9 million over three years for TV announcements and other outreach to the state’s 4 million voters; it could cost North Carolina $14 million or more over three years to inform its 6 million voters.

WHO PAYS FOR I.D.? With studies showing that seven to 11 percent of citizens don’t have a photo ID, demands on DMV offices for ID cards will go up — and so will expenses if North Carolina issues free cards to avoid costly lawsuits claiming the costs of an ID card amount to a poll tax. In 2009, Wisconsin projected a total $2.4 million cost for ID cards; Missouri estimated $3.4 million. In North Carolina, there are reports that a compromise bill would allow voters to use their voter registration cards as a form of ID at the polls; however, the bill would still increase demands — and costs — for those requesting ID.

NEW ADMINISTRATIVE AND IMPLEMENTATION COSTS: Voter ID laws add dozens of new costs for state and local officials, from updating forms and websites to hiring and training staff to inspect IDs and handle provisional ballots on Election Day. In 2009, Maryland estimated it could cost over $95,000 each election just for precinct judges in just one county. With agencies strapped for cash, the N.C. legislature would likely need to appropriate millions of dollars each year to help cover these new administrative expenses.

The following chart itemizes the expenses North Carolina would face:

As Facing South reported earlier, these estimates still probably don’t reflect the true costs of carrying out a voter ID program. As we found in analyzing the fiscal notes from half a dozen states, most failed to include at least one basic expense needed to implement a voter ID law, such as voter education, administrative expenses and hiring and training additional poll workers.

In other cases, lawmakers acknowledged the added costs, but merely stated they would be “absorbed” by existing agencies — an unlikely scenario today, given the move to slash budgets at every level of state government.

It’s equally clear you can’t cut costs on voter ID programs — not without inviting more problems, and possibly more costs in the long run.

States that don’t pay to issue free IDs to those who need them are inviting lawsuits that claim the bill is a poll tax. Failing to spend money up-front for voter outreach and education will only cause a state to pay more later in issuing more provisional ballots to confused voters, and hiring more poll workers to handle those ballots and longer lines on Election Day.

Voter ID laws have always been suspect, given the miniscule number of cases of voter impersonation, and the disproportionate barriers they pose to the elderly, the disabled, students and low-income voters.

But now, with states still economically reeling, costly voter ID laws would seem nearly impossible to justify — and resistance could escalate quickly once lawmakers realize they simply can’t afford them.

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Chris Kromm is the executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of Facing South and Southern Exposure. Contact him at [email protected].

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  1. Lisa —

    There is zero evidence that voter impersonation — the only kind of fraud that a photo ID requirement addresses — is a real problem in North Carolina. Advocates of HB 351 have not been able to produce any credible evidence of widespread voter impersonation.

    As for ID requirements for consumer goods, I'd hope that we would have a different standard for a basic, democratic right like voting than we do for private consumption. In any case, most of the companies I've talked to are perfectly fine with allowing those who don't have photo ID to establish banks accounts and do many of things that photo ID proponents erroneously suggest require photo ID.

    Lastly: The fiscal note for HB 351 was deeply flawed — but not for being too high, but for being too low. The paltry $600,000 allowed for voter education is a fraction of what every other state in the country has paid for informing voters about changes to the law. Missouri's estimate of $16.9 million over three years is much more realistic. The fiscal note also left out dozens of basic administrative expenses essential to carrying out a photo ID law.

    Some Republicans have suggested emulating the Georgia photo ID law model. That's widely considered the worst photo ID law in the country. It was litigated multiple times in court, with one of the complaints being that its under-funding of voter education efforts was likely a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Is that what we want for North Carolina?

    Chris Kromm
    Institute for Southern Studies

  2. The NC Voter ID bill is a bill that is needed in every state. One fraudulent vote dilutes every legitimate vote cast. It does not place an undue burden on anyone. Having id is not an undue burden. You need id to open a bank account, buy cigarettes and alcohol and get a credit card.

    In addition, a detailed review of the costs associated with HB 351, the Voter Photo ID bill, shows that the costs associated with implementing this bill were grossly inflated. The cost estimate of $3.2 Million noted in the Legislative Fiscal Note for this bill used dubious criteria to determine how many id cards would likely have to be issued and double counted the the costs associated with the issuance of the cards.

  3. A similar effort is under way in many states, of course. In New Hampshire, the Republican Speaker of the House slipped up & admitted they were planning to make it harder for college students to vote, because:

    “They are kids voting liberal.”

    The current attack on left-leaning voters is yet another assault on democracy that has to be beaten back...

  4. Far as I'm concerned, the voter ID law that the Republicans are considering — we hear they're modeling their law on the Georgia voter ID law — is the most serious threat to free and open elections that we've faced ... fueled by outrageous and unfounded urban myths about “van loads of illegal immigrants” taken to the polls to vote illegally. The Republicans know how to push those buttons!

    I've posted about any photo ID law in North Carolina being unconstitutional under the state's Constitution, taking my cues from the Missouri law that's been thrown out. Missouri's state constitution is very similar to NC's. The trick is not to challenge the law in federal courts, since the Supremes have already ruled in the Indiana case that voter photo ID is just all right with them. See

    I've also written separately about the disproportionate impacts on legally registered college students:

    Look forward to your taking up this cause!