$93.82 to Vote

Vote, It's Your Civic Duty | Image Credit:  Thomas Hawk

Vote, It's Your Civic Duty | Image Credit: Thomas Hawk

I've been following the news around voter ID laws recently, and I'm not happy. Our right to vote is what separates us from the monarchies and dictatorships that our founders fled to create this nation. It is our way to have a say in how our government is run and each citizen is supposed to have an equal say. Each citizen has one vote, no matter how poor you are or how powerful your family is. I believe that every eligible citizen should vote, and that we should do everything we can as a society to make voting accessible to everyone.

While I do not personally believe that in-person voter fraud is a prevalent or urgent problem, I can see the points made in an argument that a voter ID is necessary to prevent such fraud from occurring. Protecting the integrity of the voting process is crucial. With that in mind, I am much more concerned with faulty voting machines, confusing ballots, and long voting lines than I am with voter ID. I would say that I'm confused as to why I don't see laws about those issues being rushed through state legislatures, but I think I know why. I think it is really about making it harder for some people to vote, and before the next election. Of course, the Republicans who are pushing these urgent changes to the election processes will deny this, so let's humor them for a moment and just consider the practical implications of requiring people to get a photo ID in order to vote.

The way these laws are designed, getting a Voter ID is on you, the voter. It's your problem. If you want to vote, you have to get an ID. I know, you may have already registered to vote and that used to be enough, but not anymore. Now, if you want to vote, you have to get an ID.

If you are Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, then getting an ID is not a big deal. You probably already have one. After all, you need an ID to drive, buy alcohol or cigarettes, rent a car, etc. Soldiers died for your right to vote. If you can't be bothered to get an ID that you should already have anyway, then I guess you can't be bothered to vote.

Well, I guess that's one way to look at it. If you are Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, then that's probably true. For some people, getting an ID might not be so simple. Let's take a look at what it would take for someone like me to get an ID in the state of Texas.

Since the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, Texas and a bunch of other states that were previously restricted from making random changes to election procedures without federal oversight (because they might be racist) rushed to make a bunch of random changes to election procedures. When I say rushed, I mean it took mere days. Before these changes, I registered to vote in Texas and established my identity at that time. I was mailed a registration card from my County Registrar each year and I could take that to my polling place and vote. Now, the State is requiring me to show a form of photo ID to vote. If I no longer have a valid photo ID (and there was no reason why I should be required to maintain one until now), then I will have to get a new one. Acquiring and/or maintaining a photo ID costs money. To me, this amounts to a poll tax. Proponents of this ID requirement will tell you that's not true and that getting an ID is not a financial burden to anyone. Let's test that.

A voter must show one of the following forms of photo identification in order to vote in Texas:

  • Valid Texas driver's license
  • Election Identification Certificate (EIC)
  • Personal Identification Card
  • Concealed Handgun License issued by the Texas Dept of Public Safety
  • U.S. Military ID Card that contains the person's photo
  • U.S. Citizenship Certificate that contains the person's photo
  • U.S. Passport

I need to get one of those forms of ID if I want to vote in the next election, even though I have a voter registration certificate and have been a registered voter in the State of Texas for almost four years. Getting a Passport or a Concealed Handgun License both require that I already have a form of photo ID, so those are not options. I was born in the U.S., so I'm not going to have a Citizenship Certificate. I was never in the military. That leaves me with a driver's license, EIC, or personal ID card.

Driver's License: Cost is $25 and must be renewed every 16 years. You must document your identity, verify your Social Security Number, and document your U.S. Citizenship or lawful presence and Texas residency. You must also provide proof of vehicle registration or provide a statement that you do not own a vehicle, and you must pass a written and driving test. On the up-side, a driver's license can be used as a valid ID for many other purposes including buying alcohol and cigarettes, if you are into that.

Personal ID Card: Cost is $16 and must be renewed every 16 years. You must document your identity, U.S. Citizenship or lawful presence, and Texas residency. Like a driver's license, a personal ID card can be used in most cases to prove your age in case you want to buy cigarettes. Don't try to rent a car, though.

Election Identification Certificate (EIC): Cost is free. You must document your identity and your U.S. Citizenship. You must be eligible to vote in Texas (either by bringing your registration card or by submitting a voter registration application) and you must be a Texas resident that is 17 years and 10 months or older. The EIC is only valid for voting and has no other purpose, so yay for extra plastic in the world.

At first glance, this doesn't seem so bad. The most expensive option is $25 every 16 years. That's about $1.50 a year. That's nothing, right? If that's too much, there's even a free option. FREE. Or is it? Let's take a closer look at the required documents.

For each of these, I have to document my U.S. Citizenship. The acceptable documents are:

  • A Passport (if I had this, I wouldn't need these other IDs); or
  • A Birth Certificate (or Certificate of Report of Birth or Consular Report of Birth issued by the U.S. Dept, of State of citizens born abroad); or
  • U.S. Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization; or
  • U.S. Dept. of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service U.S. Citizen ID Card (again, if I had this, I wouldn't need these IDs)

Well, crap. I lost my birth certificate and my social security card when I moved. I've lost my birth certificate more than once in my life, and I can't be the only one this has happened to (am I right?). So, I need to get a copy of my birth certificate. I was born in Utah and lucky for me you can order copies of your birth certificate online. Let's check that out. It looks like I can get a copy of my birth certificate for the low, low price of $93.82. Wow. Why so much? That's almost my co-pay for a 90-day supply of one of my prescriptions. That's going to hurt. Almost $100 to get my birth certificate from one government agency so that I can show it to another government agency. That sounds really stupid and unfair, particularly to someone like me who really can't afford to spend my medicine money on a piece of paper just to prove that I am a citizen. If I choose the free shipping (and I will), it will take 15-25 business days, so up to 5 weeks, to get to me. I guess I'm not getting that EIC this month. I hope there's not an election soon. And I must use a credit card. That could be a barrier for some people. Not everyone has a credit card, you know. It looks like the only other option to get a copy of my birth certificate is to go to Utah in person, or get someone to go there for me. I guess I'll bite the bullet and put it on my credit card, even though the interest rate sucks and I'm going to end up paying way more than $100 for this birth certificate, but that's what happens to people like me who are struggling to get by.

Suddenly, it's not sounding so "free." And I'm not done. I still have to verify my identity.

The acceptable documents to verify Identity include three options:

Option A:

You can show your valid driver's license. (I'm trying not to get snarky, but really?? If I had a driver's license, I wouldn't be looking at this list in the first place!)

Option B: You can show two of these documents: (only the first one applies to me, so it's Option C for me.)

  1. Original or certified copy of a birth certificate issued by the appropriate State Bureau of Vital Statistics or equivalent agency;
  2. Original or certified copy of United States Department of State Certification of Birth (issued to United States citizens born abroad);
  3. Original or certified copy of court order with name and date of birth (DOB) indicating an official change of name and/or gender; or
  4. U.S. citizenship or naturalization papers without identifiable photo.

Option C: You can show one of the Option B documents and two documents from this list:

  1. voter registration card;
  2. school records;
  3. insurance policy (at least two years old);
  4. Texas vehicle or boat title or registration;
  5. military records;
  6. unexpired military dependant identification card;
  7. original or certified copy of marriage license or divorce decree;
  8. Social Security card;
  9. pilot's license;
  10. unexpired photo DL or photo ID issued by another (United States) state, U.S. territory, the District of Columbia;
  11. expired photo DL or photo ID issued by another (United States) state, U.S. territory, or the District of Columbia that is within two years of the expiration date;
  12. an offender identification card or similar form of identification issued by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  13. forms W-2 or 1099;
  14. Numident record from the Social Security Administration;
  15. expired Texas driver license or personal identification certificate (expired more than two years);
  16. professional license issued by Texas state agency;
  17. identification card issued by government agency;
  18. parole or mandatory release certificate issued by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  19. federal inmate identification card;
  20. federal parole or release certificate;
  21. Medicare or Medicaid card;
  22. Selective Service card;
  23. immunization records;
  24. tribal membership card from federally recognized tribe;
  25. Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood;
  26. Veteran's Administration card;
  27. hospital issued birth record; or
  28. any document that may be added to §15.24 of this title (relating to Identification of Applicants) other than those issued to persons who are not citizens of the U.S.

Maybe I can get a replacement Social Security Card. Let's check. Nope, you need your birth certificate. OK. School Records? Hmmm...I wonder what that means. College transcripts? Kindergarten report card? I have a marriage certificate, but it's a same-sex marriage from California. I'm not sure that counts, because Texas hates those. Hospital issued birth record? Isn't that a birth certificate? And here is where I start to lose it.

the scream. | Image Credit:  Hammonton Photography

the scream. | Image Credit: Hammonton Photography

Why do I have to figure this out? If I were arrested, I bet the government would be able to figure out who I am without any help from me. I'm pretty sure they already know who I am, where I was born, and what I ate for breakfast.

These requirements put a burden on voters to prove themselves eligible to vote, and to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege. This is not the path to a healthy electorate, because it disenfranchises those people who are unable to bear that burden. We need their voices. The sick. The disabled. The oppressed. The poor. Even the person who can't afford to order a copy of his birth certificate because he needs his medicine. I know that I shouldn't have lost my birth certificate, but does losing my birth certificate mean that I lose my right to vote? By losing my birth certificate, I am effectively being charged $93.82 plus interest for the right to vote. Have we become the kind of country where I have to carry my papers with me in order to guarantee my rights as a citizen will be honored?

There's another thing to consider. In this scenario, I was using the internet to get my information. Many people do not have computers or internet access at home, so that's going to be an additional barrier for them, not only in getting the information they need, but also in getting the required documents. Also, I speak native English, which is a definite advantage. Before you get all, "This is America, and you should speak English," on me, just stow it. Being a native English speaker is not a requirement to vote. If this upsets you, read the Constitution and then look up the word xenophobic.

I want to believe that these requirements are put in place to protect the integrity of the vote, but I just don't. When I see other restrictions put in place such as restricting early voting, reducing the number of polling places, shortening the voting times, and restricting absentee ballots, I grow suspicious. When you examine the impacts of these measures, you find that the groups that are the most impacted are the poor, the sick, the disabled, the elderly, and minority groups.

Early voting line part 2 | Image Credit:  Chutney

Early voting line part 2 | Image Credit: Chutney

Even if that is not on purpose, that should be a very good reason to reevaluate your plan. It's disingenuous to say, "these measures aren't intended to be a barrier," when they aren't a barrier to people like you but they are to others. It's insulting to imply that people who don't have an ID don't have one because they are just lazy, or that people don't vote when you decide to open the polls because they just don't feel like voting at that time. You are speaking from a biased position, Mr. Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise.

There is no reason that it should be so difficult to establish my identity. There is no reason that you should assume that I am lying about who I am until I prove that I am telling the truth. If you think that a Voter ID is really important right now to prevent voter fraud, then we should implement a plan to provide every eligible voter with an ID, but it must be the government's responsibility to bear the burden of both the cost and the effort to do this. I have an idea of how we might get this done.

From now on, when people register to vote, take their picture and information. If someone does not have the required documents (they lost their birth certificate, for example), then their registration is verified before their ID is sent to them. I can't imagine that it would be too difficult for an agent of the government of Texas to contact the government of Utah on my behalf to verify my identity as documented on my birth certificate. A phone call between two government agents. No $93.82 from a poor, sick person. No 5 week wait. They could also contact the college I attended, or my kindergarten, or the IRS, or any other of those agencies on that big list.

When someone comes to vote who was already registered before the ID card requirement took effect, take their picture. Everyone who just voted, just got a Voter ID for next time. Now everyone has a Voter ID for next time and you haven't made it harder for anyone to vote. It is surely worth waiting one election cycle in order to ensure that all eligible voters will have access to the vote.

Something tells me that Republicans would never go for this idea because I really believe that they just want to make it harder for some people to vote. I hope I'm wrong. I'm waiting for a Republican to prove me wrong and introduce a bill that makes it easier to vote.

I'm not holding my breath.