Common Cause Massachusetts 2016 Testimony in Opposition to Voter Identification

January 19, 2016

Testimony in Opposition to S. 378, S. 389, H.569, H. 591

Voter Identification

Pam Wilmot, Executive Director, Common Cause Massachusetts

Joint Committee on Election Laws

January 19, 2016

On behalf of the members of Common Cause Massachusetts, we oppose the bills before you that would require voters to produce photo identification in order to cast a ballot on Election Day. We oppose this legislation because requiring identification will: (1) have a disproportionately negative impact on low income and minority communities, as well as the disabled and elderly; (2) be ineffective in addressing voter fraud because it addresses only voter impersonation at the polls, a nearly nonexistent practice; and (3) increase the cost of conducting elections and the time it takes to vote, adding to the potential for long lines in some communities.

The issue of identification requirements for registration and voting has become contentious across the country. With the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002, states have been required, among other things, to have all voters provide proof of their identity and address when registering to vote. HAVA also requires first-time voters who registered by mail to produce evidence of their identity when they arrive at the polls by showing a driver's license, utility bill, or other proof of residence, including a bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document. The legislation under consideration goes substantially further by requiring that all voters, not just new voters, present evidence of their identity every time they vote. Furthermore, many of these bills would limit the list of acceptable documentation to government issued photo identification. Adopting a strict voter ID requirement would place Massachusetts in the company of only nine other states.

ID Requirement for Voting


Strict Photo ID Requirement (Voters must show a photo ID each time they vote)

9 States: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin

Photo ID Requirement (Voters asked for photo ID each time they vote, but may also cast a vote without a photo ID if certain conditions are met, such as signing an affidavit or being vouched for by another voter)

8 States: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota

Non-Photo ID Requirement (Voters must show a form of non-photo identification each time they vote)

16 States: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures (

Discriminatory Impact

One reason to oppose these bills is their disproportionate effect on low-income, elderly, disabled, urban, minority, and student voters. These populations are less likely to have driver's licenses or other forms of photo identification.

According to the 2001 National Commission on Federal Election Reform, approximately eleven to twenty million citizens, or six to ten percent of voting-age Americans, have no driver's license or state-issued non-driver's photo identification card. However, this percentage is not distributed evenly throughout all sectors of the population – the percentages are much higher for seniors (18%), African Americans (25%), and low income Americans (15%).[1] These people would be pressed to obtain proper documentation to vote. Moreover, a 2008 Brown University report showed that requiring voter ID decreases the likelihood of those with family incomes over $75,000 to vote by 8%, while it decreases the likelihood of those with incomes under $15,000 by a shocking 23%. [2]

Similarly, there are some truly heart-rending stories of elderly voters in other states who have been voting for decades and are turned away for the first time because they did not have the proper identification, nor could they get it without extraordinary efforts. For many people, it is difficult to get to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to acquire a photo ID because of conflicts with work schedules. Moreover, the cost of a photo ID can be burdensome to low-income people. For example, the least expensive form of state issued ID is a Massachusetts identification card, which can be purchased for $25 with the presentation of original documents proving date of birth, signature, and residency, and presentation of a social security number.[3] Acquiring a new driver’s licenses costs $50 and converting an out of state driver’s license into a Massachusetts license costs $100. Furthermore, most identification cards issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles expire after 5 years, requiring people to renew their cards.[4] Similarly, a passport costs $135 for adult first time applicants and $110 for a renewal. Furthermore, for naturalized citizens who lack documentation of their citizenship status, obtaining copies of their naturalization papers costs $380 and can take up to a year to replace. Even birth certificates cost between $5 and $30 and some U.S. citizens, such as Native Americans born on reservations, were never issued these documents in the first place. In Massachusetts, for example, birth certificates attained in person at the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics cost $18, those attained by mail are $28, while those attained online or via the phone or fax cost $45. Furthermore, the imposition of these costs upon voters would violate federal law as unconstitutional burdens on the rights to vote.[5]

Voting rights advocates are also concerned that mandatory photo ID requirements sometimes result in increased voter harassment at the polls. According to a study conducted by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere, poll workers demand photo ID much more often from African Americans and Latinos than white voters.[6] He found that in the 2006 general election, 47% of whites were asked for photo identification whether it was required or not, compared to 54% of Hispanics and 55% of African Americans. Similarly, in the 2008 Super Tuesday primary states, 53% of whites were asked to show photo ID, compared with 58% of Hispanics and a staggering 73% of African Americans. This was true even after controlling for factors such as income, education, age, region, state laws, and party identification. This study points to the difficulties and potentially discriminatory practices that might arise at the polls from voter ID requirements.


Voter ID requirements do little to prevent voter fraud. Central voter registries, professional non-partisan election officials, tough voter fraud penalties, and aggressive reporting and law enforcement, all do a great deal to discourage voter fraud to the extent that this practice is practically non-existent. There is no evidence that the type of fraud solved by stricter voter ID laws – individual voters who misrepresent their identity at the polls – is anything but an anomaly. Numerous studies at both the national and state level have found that the rare examples of voter fraud that do occur are almost never the kind that would be prevented by a photo ID law. For example, an intensive five-year investigation by the Department of Justice under President George W. Bush found only 86 voter fraud cases out of more than 196 million votes cast.[7] Notably, most of the violations were not for voter fraud that could have been prevented by a voter ID law, like mistakenly filling out registration forms or misunderstanding eligibility rules.

Voter fraud is extraordinarily rare in large part because fraud by individual voters is an ineffective way to attempt to win an election. In addition to state penalties, federal law provides for up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each act of voter fraud in connection with a federal election.[8] In return, the risky practice yields at most one additional vote. In fact, it is statistically more likely for a person to get struck by lightning than to impersonate another voter at the polls.[9]


Cost of implementation

While legislation requiring that every voter present a government issued photo ID before voting seems like a simple mandate, implementation of such a law would require significant changes to the election system and will likely cost millions of dollars. Costs that must be incurred in the implementation of the legislation include:


            Voter education and outreach. A voter ID law in Massachusetts would require an extensive publicity effort to educate voters about the changes in the law and inform them of the steps they must take to ensure that they are not turned away at the polls. This must include reaching out to communities that are least likely to possess valid forms of ID, including the elderly, low income individuals, and students. The public education campaign would likely include mailings, advertising and public service announcements, and modifications of state, county, and local election officials' websites to publicize new voter ID requirements. In 2010, for example, Missouri estimated that its voter education and outreach effort would cost $16.9 million over three years, to be spent on TV announcements and other outreach efforts to the states' eligible voters, such as direct mailings.[10] Similarly, after the implementation of voter ID legislation in Georgia, the Secretary of State had to advertise in print and on-air media, mail out information packets and reminders, and send letters to citizens suspected of not having proper identification, instructing them on how to obtain ID.


            Provide free identification cards. In order to comply with the Constitution, Massachusetts will have to ensure that free voter IDs are readily accessible to voters who lack them. This would include substantial costs, such as distributing equipment to make the voter IDs, opening new offices to issue the IDs, ensuring that these offices are open during convenient hours, and perhaps creating mobile ID centers. In 2009, for instance, Wisconsin projected a total $2.8 million cost for licenses and processing alone. Similarly, Missouri estimated a cost of $2 million over three years for processing and mailing. Finally, when a voter ID bill was implemented in Indiana, the state experienced a larger than expected demand for free IDs. From 2007 to 2010, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued around 770,000 free photo Ids, costing them over $10 million.[11]


            Employment and training. The requirement that voters show a photo ID and the consequent increase in provisional balloting will likely result in a need for additional poll workers, training on the processing of provisional ballots, and the printing and processing of more provisional ballots. Additionally, implementing a voter ID law could impact the amount of time needed by the auditor’s office staff to verify or reject provisional ballots and reconcile the provisional ballot numbers.


Provisional Ballots: H. 591

H. 591, unlike the other bills would require showing photo ID when casting provisional ballots, rather than regular ballots. But the whole point of provisional ballots is to be able to provide an opportunity to provisionally vote for those that do not have an ID or are not on the voting roles. These votes are not counted until the registrars confirm that the voter should have been on the rolls or is who they say they are.



The legislation before you is unnecessary and places additional burdens on voters at a time when lack of voter turnout is reaching critical proportions. Moreover, it would impose unnecessary costs on Massachusetts taxpayers. Rather than looking to make voting more difficult, we hope that this committee will be looking at ways to encourage more people to exercise their democratic franchise, such as Election Day registration and automatic voter registration. We respectfully urge the committee to produce unfavorable reports of these bills.

[1] See Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of Americans’ Posession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification, Brennan Center for Justice (2006),

[2] John R. Logan & Jennifer Darrah, The Suppressive Effects of Voter ID Requirements on Naturalization and Political Participation,

[3] Massachusetts Department of Transportation, Obtaining a Massachusetts ID,

[4] Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles, Schedule of Fees,

[5] Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., 128 S. Ct. 1610, 1616 (2008) (a burden on the right to vote must “be justified by relevant and legitimate state interests ‘sufficiently weighty to justify the limitation.’”) (plurality opinion); Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966) (holding that poll taxes violate the Equal Protection Clause).

[6] See Stephen Ansolabehere, Effects of Identification Requirements on Voting: Evidence from the Experiences of Voters on Election Day, 42 PS: Political Science & Politics 127 (2009).

[7] See Eric Lipton & Ian Urbina, In 5-Year Effort, Scant Evidence of Voter Fraud, N.Y. Times, Apr. 12, 2007,

[8] 42 U.S.C. § 1973i(c), (e); 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg-10.

[9] See Justin Levitt, The Truth About Voter Fraud, Brennan Center for Justice (2007),

[10] See Report: N.C. Voter ID Law Could Cost State $20 Million or More, The Institute for Southern Studies (2011),

[11] See The High Cost of Voter ID Mandates, Common Cause Minnesota and Citizens for Election Integrity (2011), Shelley de Alth, ID at the Poll: Assessing the Impact of State Voter ID Laws on Voter Turnout, 3 Harvard Law & Policy Review 185, 189 (2009).


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