Vote 2012: Virginia, I’m Proud of Your Penny Pinching

The state of Virginia recently had to make some difficult choices on how to spend its allowance (much like my adolescent self on countless occasions), and I am delighted to announce, made a practical decision. Last week, Virginia’s House Subcommittee Chair pulled its voter ID/citizenship requirement bill when it discovered the new legislation could cost the state between $8 to $20 million – a hefty tab in cash-strapped times when budgets for schools, roads, trash collection, and health care are being reduced. The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis in Virginia produced a briefing paper on the true costs of the bill, HB 569, which would have required proof of citizenship for new voter registrations and photo proof of identification at the polls. To be frank, I am a little jealous of Virginia for having a credible friend like the Commonwealth Institute – I never had anyone to help me make sound financial decisions with my weekly $20, but my options were more limited to movies or dinner.

Virginia’s decision, with respect to its limited resources, has implications that go far beyond just dollars and cents. By stopping further consideration of HB 569, Virginia has prevented the possible disenfranchisement of countless voters.

Voter ID and citizenship requirements don’t affect all Americans equally. Many Virginians, like many people across the United States, lack passports, driver’s licenses, or other government-issued forms of photo identification. And while at least 7 percent of Americans lack proof of citizenship, 34 percent of women lack proof of citizenship with their current legal name. More importantly, each penny Virginia saves is a penny it can use towards something potentially more necessary for its residents, like additional subsidized day care slots or after-school programs (or the latest Converse kicks).

The ACLU lately has been a little more generous with its money, albeit with the intention of protecting  voters – just last week, the ACLU of Minnesota offered to pay $1,000 to anyone who could demonstrate a recent case of voter impersonation that a photo ID requirement would have prevented. The ACLU was stirred to make this offer due to a proposed constitutional amendment for a voter identification requirement in Minnesota. The amendment follows Minnesota Governor Dayton’s veto of a voter ID bill because it would cost the state and counties approximately $23 million (the same amount Minnesota’s St. Paul school district cut from its overall budget last year).

Growing up, I wouldn’t have dreamed of spending my allowance on what is in essence a bet, unless I knew I would win, and it seems the ACLU is betting on a sure thing. It researched voter impersonation in Minnesota over the last ten years and found no prosecuted cases. I think it is safe to say, it won’t be dishing out one bit of its allowance anytime soon. So I guess the ACLU’s real intention is actually to save Minnesota from spending its allowance on unnecessary laws. Nicely done ACLU, nicely done.

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