New Missouri SoS, Governor Differ on Voter ID Costs, Budget

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Last year, Missouri voters approved a voter ID requirement in state elections – but now, the state’s new Secretary of State and Governor don’t agree on what the law will cost or what state monies will be available to pay for it. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has more:

The cost of implementing Missouri’s new voter ID law remained in question after two days of budget hearings, despite Republican assurances that officials would get the money they need for a proper rollout.

The law, pushed by Republican legislators and approved by voters last year, requires Missourians to show a photo ID before voting or sign a legal document swearing they are who they say they are. 

In response to heavy Democratic criticism that it would prevent the elderly, disabled and poor from voting, Republicans also required the state to pay for IDs for those who can’t afford them. 

Gov. Eric Greitens offered $300,000 for implementation in his budget plan released last week: $100,000 each for advertising the changes, paying for free IDs and covering the cost of getting personal records for those IDs.

But Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, who is tasked with letting voters know about the law, estimated Tuesday it would take between $1.1 million and $1.5 million to do so before August elections.

Nevertheless, the gap is much smaller than it was late last year, when the outgoing Democratic SoS cited significantly higher costs:

That’s a far cry from the roughly $5.2 million former secretary Jason Kander, a Democrat, requested over two years. Ashcroft said he could trim millions from Kander’s proposal by cutting TV ads and mailers about the changes to every registered voter in the state, instead relying on partnerships with community organizations and face-to-face interactions with potential voters. 

But he doubted he could slash enough to reach the governor’s target. 

“We would suggest that we would need more to do the best job we can,” Ashcroft said.

One key element of the plan, free IDs, are a key point in the conversation and will be a major component of the cost:

The Department of Revenue would bear the cost of producing the free photo identification cards. An agency representative didn’t venture a guess at how much giving out the free IDs would cost them Wednesday. The department will wait and see how many requests it gets for free licenses before asking for money later this year.

An analysis of the law last year estimated it would cost the department $457,303 to make and mail non-driver licenses for more than 200,000 potential applicants for free IDs next year.

This budget discussion has significant consequences, given that ID can’t go into effect unless the costs of free IDs can be met.

Supporters of voter ID say they’ll work with the Governor to get the funds – and criticized the notion that ID will be expensive for the state:

“It’s my feeling that voting is important enough that we fund whatever the requirements are to make sure people are able to get to the polls,” [House Budget chair Scott] Fitzpatrick told the Post-Dispatch Friday.

But Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, decried the estimates, calling them the handiwork of a hostile former Secretary of State hellbent on killing the law. Kander spoke out against voter ID in a final speech to the House last month and on Tuesday announced the launch of an organization fighting such measures across the country.

“I cried up and down last year to the previous secretary that the entire fiscal note was using old data,” Alferman said. “These numbers are a farce at best.”

 Kander’s report said nearly 225,000 registered voters didn’t have photo IDs on file with the Department of Revenue as of 2014, but Alferman was skeptical.

“I’m still yet to find all these individuals that don’t IDs in two years of hearing testimony on this bill,” he said. “And those that do, I hope they’re … screaming about it so we can help them get one.”

Needless to say, ID opponents take a different view:

Critics, on the other hand, found plenty to worry about with the governor’s recommendations and Ashcroft’s cuts to voter education.

Rep. Peter Meredith, D-St. Louis, said they showed Republicans weren’t trying to prevent voter fraud as they claimed. 

“They just wanted to scare people away from voting,” he said.

This dispute reads like a budgetary negotiation heavily flavored with partisan rhetoric, but the decisions Missouri makes about this funding will be crucial. As we have seen in other states, plaintiffs aren’t afraid to cite – and judges aren’t afraid to find – that budget shortfalls or other obstacles to providing access to ID under these laws can be used as a reason to block implementation of such laws. Whether and how the new Governor and SoS will close the gap will be important in the short term, but will also be a key factor in what is sure to be a legal challenge to voter ID in Missouri in 2017 or beyond.

Stay tuned …

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