How difficult is it, really, to get voter photo ID?

Getting photo ID for voting is damned difficult if the process is set up intentionally to make it hard for you.

pennsylvania_voter_id_rally-thumb-640xauto-6483-thumb-640xauto-6766Richard Sobel, a researcher for Harvard’s Institute for Race and Justice, looked at what some people in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas went through as they tried to get photo ID.  He wrote a report on what he found, which was published in June.

steve-frank67FAC2A7-A14C-4F72-D3C8-71613E397404He said “free” ID cost $75 to $150 if you figure in the cost of getting birth certificates, naturalization documents and other documents, the cost of travel, and time spent traveling and waiting.   Sometimes there were legal fees as well.

Sobel noted that this is considerably more than the poll taxes that were outlawed by Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1964.  I don’t see how any requirement to pay money in order to vote can considered anything but a poll tax.

Here are some examples from his report of what would-be voters ran into.

In Pennsylvania

According to a September 13, 2012 letter to The Morning Call in Scranton, a Pennsylvania resident seeking a “free” voter ID had incurred costs of $94.61 so far, which were likely to eventually reach $133.61. The potential voter traveled 34 miles round trip to and from the PennDOT agency in Bethlehem, an estimated hour of travel time.

After a 75-minute wait, she was advised that she needed to present a raised-seal birth certificate from her home state of New York and an updated Social Security card.  Subsequently, she requested a birth certificate from New York State.

PA_VOTER_ID_LAMINATEShe then traveled to a local Social Security office and was informed that a raised-seal marriage certificate was also required to obtain the updated Social Security card. She then requested a marriage certificate from New York State.

She now needs to return to the Social Security office with the marriage certificate to get an updated Social Security card. Then, she needs to return to Penn DOT to provide the birth certificate and updated Social Security card to get a voter ID.

The direct costs of this “free” voter ID include acquiring a certified copy of a birth certificate for $38.80. For a woman whose name has changed, it includes acquiring a certified copy of her marriage certificate for $15. This brings the document cost to $53.80.

The author of the letter estimated the total travel costs for gas at $20 to complete the process.

In time costs, the trip to PennDOT took an estimated one hour of travel.  At minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, one hour’s time cost was $7.25. The voter spent 75 minutes (1¼ hour) at the PennDOT office.  The time spent during the trip to the Social Security office was about 2 hours — 1 hour travel; 1 hour visit.

The voter will need an additional trip to the Social Security office with the sealed marriage certificate to get her updated Social Security card. That trip will likely take another 2hours. She will then have to return to PennDOT for an estimated 2 hours. The total time cost is: 8¼ hours at $7.25 per hour, or $59.81.

In summary, the current incurred costs for this voter to get a “free” voter ID are:$ 53.80 for documents, $10.00 for gas and $30.81 for time, or$94.61. Factoring in future additional trips to the Social Security Office and PennDOT, the likely final total cost will include an additional $10 in gas and $29 in time, or $133.61

In South Carolina

Voter Donna Suggs struggled to get a voter ID.  Because she did not have a birth certificate, since she was born by midwife, she needed legal assistance.  She was provided with pro bono aid from an attorney to acquire the certificate.

110831125055_dmv-state-identification-cardsThen she traveled to the DMV to get a photo ID. The cost for a South Carolina birth certificate was $12. Her estimated round trip public transportation costs at $2 each way to the attorney’s office were $4 and to the DMV were about another $4 for a total of $8.

She estimates having spent 4 hours consulting an attorney including 1 hour travel time; 4 hours changing her birth certificate, assuming 1 hour travel, 3 waiting; and 3 hours traveling to and from and waiting at the DMV.  At minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, the 11 hours were worth $79.75.

Her total costs were $12 for documents, $8 for travel, and $79.75 in time, for a total of $99.75. If she had not been provided pro bono legal assistance, she would have needed about 8 hours of legal services at a minimum of $150/hr, or $1200, plus a filing fee of $150, totaling $1,350.66.  This would have increased the cost of her “free” voter ID to $1,449.75.

In Texas

For citizens in Sierra Blanca traveling to El Paso for a voter ID, the document costs include a birth certificate at $22.  If a marriage license is needed, a certified copy costs $10, which would bring the potential total cost for documents to $32.00.

elecIDThe travel cost by car for 176 miles at 25 mpg is the cost of 7.04 gallons of gas at $3.79 local rate or $26.68. The time cost of traveling 176 miles round trip at 65 mph is 2.71 hours at $7.25/hr, or $19.63 total.

The estimated time spent at the DPS would be 2 hours at $7.25/hr, or $14.50 total. The total estimated cost by car would be $82.81 ($22 + $26.68 + $19.63 + $14.50).  With a marriage license ($10), it would be $92.81.

Again, someone without a license would need a driver whose time of 4.71 hours at median wage of$11.82 would cost another $54.64.  The total cost with a driver would be at least $138.46 ($82.81 +$55.64) and $148.46 with a marriage license.

It is not possible to travel by regularly scheduled public transportation because there is no bus service from Sierra Blanca to El Paso.  The closest service is Greyhound in Van Horn, Texas, 30 miles away. The round trip ticket from Van Horn to El Paso is $74 nonrefundable, or $84 refundable.  The trip takes 2 hours each way, so 4 hours of time cost at $7.25/hr is $29 in time.

A cab for the half hour drive from Van Horn to Sierra Blanca is about $60 each way and takes half an hour, equaling $120 in fare and an hour in travel time ($7.25).

So the total time cost for traveling by bus and cab is five hours, or $36.25. The time spent at DPS is about two hours at $7.25/hr, or $14.50. The total time cost is seven hours, or $50.75.

Thus, the total estimated cost without a car ($22.00 + $84.00 + $120.00 + $50.75) is $276.75; with marriage certificate, $286.75


imagesAll this is not only costly and difficult to individuals, especially those on the margins of economic survival.  It also adds to the cost of government.

Another point is that this process does not have a logical end.  If you can promote a political party by lopping off a certain number of potential voters, why not promote the party even more by lopping off even more, a little bit at a time?

The end result would be an election like that of 1928, when the total vote of all the states of the former Confederacy was less than that of New York state alone.


The High Cost of ‘Free’ Photo Voter Identification Cards by Richard Sobel of Harvard Law School’s Institute for Race and Justice.  More examples are given in the report.

Millennials get cut off at the polls by Catherine Rampell for the Washington Post.

Voter suppression laws are already deciding elections by Catherine Rampell for the Washington Post.

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