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Voter ID law could cost Hubbard County

Pam Heeren

Minnesota's proposed Voter ID law, which recent polls suggest could pass handily, will have unintended consequences and unanticipated costs for Hubbard County.

"I think they're going to be astonished at what this could cost us," Auditor-Treasurer Pam Heeren said, admitting, "there's so many unknowns it's hard for us to put a price on it."

But the cost will not only entail dollars spent on elections but for delays in vote tabulation with possible challenges (think of an interminable Franken-Coleman court battle) and a possible decline in the number of citizens willing to serve as election judges.

In a county predominantly populated by senior citizens, those against the amendment say some voters could be disenfranchised if someone no longer drives or has the paperwork to get a government issued ID card.

Heeren takes no official position on the amendment, but agreed it has a good chance of passing, from information she's heard.

She is looking at preliminary costs, those she knows about:

nEquipment: "We're going to have to have a whole different set of ballots called provisional ballots, which then means you'll have to have a provisional ballot box in each township," Heeren said.

"They're talking about electronic poll books if they intend to retain election day registration and those run, from what I understand, anywhere from $1,700 to $4,000 apiece depending on what they require.

"And I'm sure some of ours are going to want two. That would be for each polling place. We have 24. I think they can share those just like they can share other things but you have to have backups and stuff."

n Personnel and costs: Election judges and/or office personnel will have to tabulate the provisional ballots, those cast on election day when a voter's identification cannot be verified on the spot.

"You're dealing with an election within an election and how much time they're gonna give us to process those and it sounds like some states have three days; other states have anywhere from five to ten," Heeren said of the time to tabulate vote totals.

"There's so many details we don't know," she cautioned.

And in a county where it's been difficult to recruit election judges, Heeren worries the new law, if passed, could dampen enthusiasm for working elections.

Election judges nowadays are predominantly senior citizens. Will they embrace new tabulating technology and procedures to verify the credentials of those who want to vote?

Should the additional responsibilities be thrust upon them?

So far, Hubbard County has been an easy, cordial place to vote. In a county where everyone knows almost everyone else, the voucher system works well.

"Now they're saying it won't affect mail balloting, they're saying with the rules right now mail balloting would have to be abolished because you can't verify the identity, so there's so many unknowns at this point it's hard to say," she said.

What percent of the vote that could disenfranchise is unknown.

"It's not something we've ever kept track of," Heeren said. "If vouching goes away, like I said, there's so many unknowns."

n Actual ID: What will constitute acceptable identification is still a great unknown.

And Heeren wonders if taxpayers will be asked to pay for state-issued cards if people don't drive and have no other verification.

"They're saying the state will issue IDs," she said. "But if you don't have the proper documents to get the ID, the taxpayer would have to pay for birth records, whatever it is, so there's that aspect. Are they going to pay for those also? Again, an unknown."

Heeren said auditors don't stay up nights worrying about the new law especially as they prepare for the 2012 general elections.

"But I do think it's going to surprise us, how expensive it's going to get, depending on some of the requirements," she said in a warning to Hubbard County residents.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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