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Home / Guest Commentary / David Schultz: The personal costs of the Voter ID amendment
If the voter ID amendment that will appear on the ballot this November is adopted, it will effectively constitute a poll tax on Minnesotans.

David Schultz: The personal costs of the Voter ID amendment

If the voter ID amendment that will appear on the ballot this November is adopted, it will effectively constitute a poll tax on Minnesotans. This is so because, while the amendment provides for a free government-issued identification to be provided to those lacking one, individuals will still face expenses associated with securing the documents needed to obtain a Minnesota ID in the first place.

In Weinschenk v. Missouri, 203 S.W.3d 201 (2006), that state’s Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a voter photo identification law. It did so in part because it found that the costs imposed on citizens to secure the free government identification placed a substantial burden on their right to vote. These costs included money spent to obtain a birth certificate, naturalization papers, or passport; time spent in securing these papers and the government identification; and the skills necessary to navigate the bureaucracy. Similarly, just last week in Texas v. Holder, a three-judge federal court panel unanimously halted enforcement of the new Texas voter ID law, noting in part the significant personal costs that securing the voter ID would have on many individuals, including persons of color.

In the state of Minnesota, individuals would face similar costs if they presently do not have a Minnesota ID and needed to obtain one in order to vote. In the recently released “The Costs of Minnesota’s Proposed Election Amendment,” co-authored by Kathy Bonnifield of Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota and me, we document costs to individuals to obtain the ostensibly free government-issued ID.

To obtain a government-issued identification, a certified copy of a birth certificate, naturalization papers, or passport may be required. Many individuals may not have these documents in their possession and may be required to purchase them before applying for the Minnesota ID.

Who may need to get these documents? The list might include the elderly, anyone lacking a current driver’s license, recently married women who have changed their names and whose current driver’s license lists them by their maiden name, and naturalized citizens.

Certified copies of birth certificates and naturalization papers are not free. A certified copy of a Minnesota birth certificate costs $26. A certified copy of an out-of-state birth certificate costs between $10 and $30. (In neighboring Wisconsin, the fee is $20; it’s $18 in California, $22 in Texas, and $30 in New York.) The replacement cost for naturalization papers is $345.The replacement cost for a passport is $100.

Exactly how many individuals lack a current driver’s license and a certified birth certificate is unknown. The Secretary of State has documented that 215,000 registered voters in the state do not have a driver’s license. Presumably these individuals would need to have a birth certificate or other identification to obtain a Minnesota ID. Alternately, the Brennan Center for Justice has estimated that in states such as Missouri, Ohio, and Virginia that between 4 and 7 percent of the adult population lack a birth certificate, naturalization papers, or a passport necessary to secure the government-issued identification required to vote. Among some populations, such as the elderly and the poor, the percentage may be higher.

As of July 1, 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are 4,047,335 Minnesotans age 18 or over. Of that population, the Minnesota Secretary of State estimates that 3.8 million are potentially eligible to vote in Minnesota elections. If you assume that 4 percent of the population lacks the required identification to obtain a Minnesota ID, the figure would come to 152,000 statewide. Assume 7 percent, and that number would be 266,000. The midpoint between these two numbers is 209,000, a figure not far from the Secretary of State’s estimate of 215,000 individuals already registered to vote but who do not have a driver’s license. This suggests that perhaps approximately 209,000 to 215,000 individuals in the state currently lack a driver’s license and the identification necessary to get a Minnesota ID.

But in Minnesota, there is also a Catch 22: According to Minnesota law (Rule 4601.2600, Subp.8.) to obtain a copy of a birth certificate one has to show, among others forms of identification, a driver’s license. One thus could not get the government-issued identification without a birth certificate, and if one did not have in possession a certified copy of a birth certificate, then one would have to present a drivers’ license to obtain it.

Additionally, there may be individuals who even lack a birth certificate because of home births or their births were not recorded. For example, from 1935 to 2010, the Minnesota Department of Health recorded 7,243 delayed birth registrations in the state. These are individuals who did not have a certificate recorded at birth, but had it registered later in life. These numbers suggest that there may be other individuals in the state who lack a birth certificate.

How burdensome might this become? Assume that one needed to obtain a Minnesota birth certificate and one does not have a driver’s license. In addition to the $26 fee, there are additional costs to the individual. These include bus transportation to and from a local government office to get this birth certificate ($1.75 one-way or $3.50 round-trip in Hennepin County, with transportation costs even higher in rural areas) and potentially time off from work (assume three hours at the minimum wage of $7.25 or a total of $21.75 in lost wages).

Then, once the birth certificate has been obtained, assume another three hours to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the Minnesota ID ($3.50 bus fare plus another $21.75 in lost wages). This adds up to a potential cost of $76.50 for any individual born in Minnesota who lacks a birth certificate and a driver’s license yet still wants to obtain an ID that will permit them to vote.

Some individuals with special needs may face even greater costs in seeking to obtain the Minnesota ID. These individuals include the elderly who live in nursing homes or have difficulty leaving their own residences, and others with physical disabilities. Both of these classes of individuals will potentially be financially inconvenienced by the potential costs of special transportation to have them make one or two trips to get the documents needed for the Minnesota ID and then the ID itself. It is also impossible to compute the personal costs and inconveniences in transporting an elderly and perhaps frail person to secure the documentation required to vote.

Some of these problems in obtaining a Minnesota birth certificate could be remedied if the state provided one for free. But this does not address the problem for Minnesotans who are foreign born or born out-of-state. The Census Bureau estimates that 7.1 percent of the state’s population is foreign born, and another 25.9 percent were born out-of-state. These individuals will encounter costs to secure the Minnesota ID if they lack proper documentation that are potentially greater than native-born residents. (In the case of immigrants, as noted above, the replacement cost for naturalization papers is $345.)

When the Missouri Supreme Court invalidated that state’s voter identification law, the court also declared that the costs of navigating the government bureaucracy need to be considered. Calculating the costs and aggravation of working with some government bureaucracies is difficult to calculate, but nonetheless still constitutes a cost to the potential voter.

Thus, at a minimum, individuals born in this state who currently lack a Minnesota driver’s license and a certified birth certificate will have to personally expend at least $76.50 to obtain the documents necessary to vote. Immigrants in a similar situation would have to spend at least $345. Assume that the 209,000 individuals without proof of identification want to get a Minnesota ID in order to vote. They will spend at least between $15,990,000 and $72,100,000 to get the documents necessary to receive the government ID.

These personal costs are not trifling. To the poor, they may be prohibitive disincentives to voting. Legally, they also raise significant constitutional questions — such as whether they amount to a poll tax, or perhaps a violation of the federal Equal Protection Clause (especially if the burdens of the ID requirement fall more heavily on people of color, as the court found in Texas). Similarly, even if the Minnesota Constitution is amended to include the photo ID requirement, this new provision could subsequently be deemed a violation of the state equal protection clause.

The personal costs and legal issues surrounding the elections amendment raise questions of discriminatory purpose or intent that must be considered when contemplating the merits of the voter ID requirements.

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