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'Voter ID' will cost as much as $500,000

If the Voter ID amendment passes, it could cost Becker County as much as $500,000, according to Becker County Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen, who is in charge of local elections.

The Voter ID Act is one of two constitutional amendments (the other is an anti-gay marriage amendment) placed on the Nov. 6 ballot by the Republican-led Legislature.

That $500,000 estimate is based on a variety of factors, including $65,000 for equipment needed by the county to make photo IDs and $120,000 for election equipment that will be needed by the county's 10 townships that now vote by mail-in ballot.

If electronic poll books are used, the cost will run from $2,000 to $4,500 apiece, and precincts larger than about 750 voters will need more than one of them. The three big Detroit Lakes precincts would likely need three or four electronic poll books each, Tangen said. That's $275,000 to $415,000 for poll books and Voter ID equipment, Tangen said.

The poll books allow voters to swipe a driver's license or voter ID to bring up their registration information for poll workers, Tangen said.

"There are just so many unknowns, like how the provisional ballot process will be handled," Tangen said.

"Voter ID is one thing, the provisional balloting and in-person voting is another piece of it," he added. "Depending on how they approach this, the cost could be minimal, or it could be $500,000 for Becker County."

Tangen believes it's unlikely that lawmakers will allow mail-in balloting if the amendment passes. "There's a huge gap in what they say the purpose of the amendment is (and mail-in voting)."

More election judges will also have to be hired if the Voter ID amendment passes, Tangen said,

At this point, there are no signs that the state is willing to pay for the costs of new Voter ID requirements.

If the county gets stuck with the bill, and it requires big changes to the current system, the tax levy would have to go up anywhere from 1.5 percent to 4 or 5 percent to pay for it, said Commissioner Barry Nelson.

Each 1 percent increase in the county tax levy raises about $180,000, Tangen said.

If voters say yes to the Voter ID amendment, it will mean the end of Minnesota's existing election system -- and the beginning of provisional balloting.

So election results won't be known for up to 14 days after an election, Tangen said.

"We now have immediate results," he told the county board Tuesday. "If we go to Voter ID and provisional ballots, we won't have immediate results -- we have up to two weeks to process those provisional ballots."

More than 16 percent of voters in the last election would have been affected by the Voter ID law -- even without the requirement to show ID at the polls.

That's because 8 percent of voters registered on the day of the election, and another 8 percent voted absentee, Tangen said. That doesn't even include the mail-in voters. All would be affected by the new Voter ID law -- as would the other 84 percent, who would have to show state-approved identification before they could vote.

Changes in election law tend to be expensive to implement, Tangen said. In 1999, it cost Becker County about $36,000 to hold a general election.

That cost is now over $100,000 per election, due to changes in the law and new equipment needed to implement it, he added.

"The Voter ID piece is a very, very, very small piece of this," Tangen said. "The change (in the voting system) is significant, and everybody should read up on this so they can make an educated decision on this issue."