With new reports confirming that voter ID remains a solution in search of a non-existent problem, South Carolina taxpayers might want to rethink whether the state’s discriminatory voter ID law is worth the rising costs of defending it in court.
A nationwide analysis of voting data found exactly 10 reports of in-person voter fraud since 2000 — about one case of fraud for every 15 million voters. That’s a rate of .83 cases of voter fraud per year in the U.S., or about .016 cases per state per year. If we apply that to the $1 million South Carolina is spending to defend its voter ID law, we find that the state is spending at a rate of $62.5 million per case of alleged fraud. (No actual cases of voter fraud have been found in South Carolina, however, so this is still a moot point.)
The analysis found that there is more alleged fraud in absentee ballots and voter registration than in any of the other categories. The analysis shows 491 cases of alleged absentee ballot fraud and 400 cases involving registration fraud. Requiring voters to show identification at the polls — the crux of most of the new legislation — would not have prevented those cases.
In many cases, people simply made mistakes. Felons or non-citizens sometimes registered to vote or cast votes because they were confused about their eligibility. Some voters accidentally cast their ballots twice or went to the wrong precinct. And election officials made mistakes, such as clerical errors — giving voters ballots when they have already voted — and errors due to confusion about eligibility.
That’s not exactly the widespread, election-changing conspiracy alleged by voter ID supporters such as state Rep. Alan Clemmons and Attorney General Alan Wilson. But despite the total lack of evidence that in-person voting fraud is a problem in South Carolina, the state is spending up to a million dollars (and possibly more) to defend the law in court.
But what exactly are taxpayers getting for such a costly defense of a law that doesn’t actually solve anything? Instead of leaving the job up to Wilson and his office, the state hired a Washington, DC-based law firm to argue in favor of the voter ID law. The state’s legal team is currently conducting depositions in the case. We got a look at their methods last week, when the SC Progressive Network’s Becci Robbins described attorney Michael McGinley’s deposition of group director Brett Bursey.
“The first 20 pages are spent rehashing Brett’s past, in an apparent attempt to discredit him,” wrote Robbins, who posted a portion of the transcript which you can read here. Judging by the excerpt, McGinley’s questioning clearly had nothing to do with voter ID — instead focusing on the ad hominem tactic of attacking voter ID’s opponents.
Let’s keep in mind how much McGinley’s firm is charging South Carolina taxpayers, based on a January 2012 report by the Charleston Post & Courier’s Renee Dudley:
In August, four months before the Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s law, Wilson hired Washington attorney Paul Clement at an hourly rate of $520, according to a contract obtained by The Post and Courier.
[In January 2012], Wilson also hired Christopher Coates, a former U.S. Justice Department attorney who now lives in the Charleston area. The state did not provide a copy of Coates’ contract, but indicated that he would be paid a maximum of $50,000.
Additional contracted associates and paralegals will earn between $180 and $200 an hour on the case.
South Carolina attorneys Herb Louthian and Armand Derfner told the Post & Courier back in January that the state could easily pay over a million dollars to defend the voter ID law — twice as much as the attorney general’s office has budgeted to conduct state lawsuits during the entire year. A Wilson spokesman said it would be “impossible to estimate” the total cost of the case, which is usually spokesman-speak for “we don’t want to tell you.”
Palmetto Public Record asked a Columbia attorney familiar with the workload necessary for such a case to estimate how many hours the state’s legal team might be billing per week. At the rate the lawyers are charging, our expert said the lawsuit likely costs the state between $5,000-7,000 per week just for normal preparation work. Now that depositions have begun, however, the state’s legal team is expected to be billing about $10,000/week for four to six weeks. Once the case actually goes to court, our expert says that figure will likely jump to $40,000/week for roughly four weeks.
Remember, all of this money is being spent to defend a law that solves a problem that has been proven not to exist. With South Carolina leaders attempting to balance the state budget on the backs of its workers, fiscal conservatives should be asking themselves whether such an unnecessary expense is really worth it.