Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Minnesota Voter ID Amendment

Political organizations are spending their money for the final push before the election. Television screens are alive with political advertisements, newspapers are filled with pages of propaganda, and billboards across the country are urging you to vote one way or another. In Minnesota we’re being assaulted with advertisements asking us to vote yes or no on two constitutional amendments. These amendments have consumed a great deal of time for the politically active members living in this state, even though they’re really just scams meant to get the Democratic and Republican voter bases out to the polls.

Of the two amendments I find the one that would require voters to present state issued photo identification when voting to be the most interesting. Unlike the amendment that would make the state’s prohibition against same-sex marriages constitutional, which is nothing more than further legislating religious dogma, the voter identification amendment is a potential solution to a potential problem. Both the problem and the solution are only potentials because no reliable study has been performed to determine if the cost of implementing voter identification outweighs the cost. To this point all arguments for and against this amendment are hypothetical. Those who support the amendment claim that it will fight voter fraud but haven’t demonstrated that voter fraud is a significant problem and those who oppose the amendment claim it will disenfranchise specific voting blocks (which can’t actually be demonstrated until the amendment is passed so I give them a bit of a break). Security, like anything else that requires the use of resources, needs to undergo cost-benefit analysis.

In order to perform a cost-benefit analysis we need to identify the threat. Voter identification legislation is meant to combat the threat of individuals claiming they’re somebody else in order to cast additional votes. How many cases of such fraud have occurred in Minnesota? I’ve seen no conclusive studies indicating such a number, just vague statements claiming it’s a rampant problem. Nationwide the rate of voter impersonation is statistically nonexistent:

Out of the 197 million votes cast for federal candidates between 2002 and 2005, only 40 voters were indicted for voter fraud, according to a Department of Justice study outlined during a 2006 Congressional hearing. Only 26 of those cases, or about .00000013 percent of the votes cast, resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.

.00000013 percent of votes cast nationwide were demonstrated to be cases of voter impersonation. That number is so statistically insignificant as to be entirely irrelevant. Unless Minnesota greatly bucks the national trend voter impersonation isn’t a notable problem here. Considering the likely insignificant nature of the problem how much would it cost to implement a voter identification system? According to the only study I’ve found on the subject the cost it is estimated that a voter identification program would be $68.5 million in the first year [PDF].

Is it really worth spending $68.5 million in the first year on something that hasn’t even been proven to be a problem? Personally I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend a single dime on something that hasn’t been proven to be a problem.

One thought on “Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Minnesota Voter ID Amendment”

  1. Short answer? No. But politics, from the very beginning of an initiative in political campaigns, is all about wasting money for very small desired effect. And often a lot of undesired effects.

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