Per Section 521A.001 of the Texas Transportation Code, the Department of Public Safety will provide voter I.D. cards without charge upon application. However, these voter I.D. cards (which cannot be used to satisfy other statutory demands for identification) may only be issued at select DPS offices, and only to individuals who present sufficient legal documentation of their citizenship and identity.
Herein lies the rub. As “free” I.D. is presumably intended to accommodate the indigent, we may assume that the greater demand for these I.D. cards would be from those potential voters who don’t have much in the way of resources.
So how much would it cost to get a free Texas voter I.D.?
For the sake of argument, assume that the potential voter is an indigent patient of the Rusk State Hospital in Rusk, Texas. Such a voter is not representative of the Texas population, but shares some qualities with a group of Texas citizens who are particularly unlikely to participate in elections (namely, the institutionalized, the disabled, the indigent, and the elderly).
First, one must apply for a voter I.D. in person at a designated DPS office. As critics of the Texas voter I.D. law have pointed out, the number of available offices has declined, making the task of getting an I.D. more formidable (especially for people in rural areas). There is no drivers’ license office in Rusk, Texas – the closest office is on 506 East Pine Street in Jacksonville, Texas. But this isn’t too bad – the DPS office is only about 15 miles away from the hospital. Although there’s no public transportation to speak of, an ambulatory person without a car could walk from Rusk to Jacksonville in about four hours, by keeping to the shoulder of U.S. 69 going northwest from downtown Rusk (and keeping in mind that customers will be served in the order they arrive, and that the DPS office is open from 8:30 to 5:00 Monday through Friday).
Although Rusk State Hospital is a psychiatric hospital that is stereotyped as a prison hospital, it is also the primary mental health care provider in East Texas, and serves both captive inmates, involuntarily committed civilians, and the general population. Of course, confined patients could simply vote by mail from the hospital and avoid the bother of I.D. voting altogether, but it isn’t inconceivable that a transient patient might need to acquire a voter I.D. for in-person voting, despite being treated at the hospital.
In any case, our example will serve to identify the issues faced by any residents of Rusk who need a picture I.D. to vote, but who lack a driver’s license.
After getting to the DPS office and filling out an application for a voter I.D. certificate, one must provide documentation of U.S. citizenship using one of the following documents:
- U.S. passport book or card
- Birth certificate issued by a U.S. state, U.S. territory or District of Columbia
- For U.S. citizens born abroad—Certificate of Report of Birth (DS-1350 or FS-545) or Consular Report of Birth (FS-240) issued by the U.S. Department of State
- U.S. Certificate of Citizenship or Certificate of Naturalization (N-560, N-561, N-645, N-550, N-55G, N-570 or N-578)
- U.S. Department of Justice Immigration and Naturalization Service U.S. Citizen ID Card (Form I-197 or I-179)
Third, one must provide documentation of identity. Those with U.S. passports are well-set, given that the passport is a primary document proving both citizenship and identity. However, the other items in the above list are insufficient proof of identity, and must be paired with at least two of the following items:
- Social security card
Form W-2 or 1099 Driver license or ID card issued by another U.S. state, U.S. territory, the District of Columbia or Canadian province (unexpired or expired less than two years)* Texas driver license or ID card that has not been expired more than two years Temporary receipt for a Texas driver license or ID card
- School records* (e.g., report cards, photo ID cards)
- Military records (e.g., Form DD-214)
- Unexpired U.S. military dependent identification card
- Original or certified copy of marriage license or divorce decree (if the document is not in English, a certified translation must accompany it)
Voter registration card* Pilot license* Concealed handgun license* Professional license issued by a Texas state agency
- ID card issued by a government agency*
Consular document issued by a state or national government
- Texas Inmate ID card or similar form of ID issued by Texas Department of Criminal Justice
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice parole or mandatory release certificate
- Federal inmate identification card
- Federal parole or release certificate
- Medicare or Medicaid card
- Selective Service card
- Immunization records*
- Tribal membership card from federally-recognized tribe
- Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood
Unexpired foreign passport Unexpired insurance policy valid for the past two years (e.g., auto, home or life insurance) Current Texas vehicle registration or title Current Texas boat registration or title
- Veteran’s Identification Card from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
- Hospital-issued birth record*
- NUMIDENT record from the Social Security Administration
- “NUMI-lite” letter from the Social Security Administration
The asterisked items must have been issued by some government-owned authority.
Some of the secondary documents that would prove identity are less likely to be possessed by an indigent person, given that these documents are dependent on ownership of personalty or realty. Therefore, I’ve drawn a line through those documents. Other items would more likely be in the possession of a non-U.S. citizen, and can be excluded as well. I won’t presume whether or not the voter has some criminal record or military service, and forms of identification available to former inmates or veterans could exist.
The two supporting documents must come from two different agencies; thus, one could not use both a NUMIDENT record and a NUMI-lite letter from the Social Security Administration.
Anyway, how much might it cost to get at least enough documents to get a free voter I.D. card?
U.S. Passport and Card – The passport is worth more than gold, as evidenced by the $165 ($140 application fee plus $25 execution fee) price tag. Expedited service is another $60, and these charges do not include the cost of the photo. Some savings can be realized by just applying for a passport card (instead of a passport book) which is just $55. Keep in mind that the passport application process will also require certain documents to prove citizenship and identity, and these may require an additional charge. If the applicant has previously had an expired passport, a $150 search fee can be paid to confirm that prior evidence of citizenship.
Certified birth certificate – If from a U.S. jurisdiction, it appears that the cost ranges from around $12 to $20, although there is no uniform rate; the fees are set by the jurisdiction issuing the certificate. Consular reports of live birth issued by U.S. embassies currently cost $50, which is the uniform fee for any vital record from the U.S. Consular Service.
A replacement certificate of naturalization costs $345, per information provided by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (see form N-565).
U.S. Citizen I.D. card – The so-called Form I-197 I.D. card is no longer issued, so while it is still useable as proof of citizenship, there is no mechanism for gaining or replacing such a document.
Assume for the sake of the example that a potential voter does not have access to a form “proving” citizenship. If that is the case, the applicant will be out an additional amount of money, regardless of the availability of other secondary documents proving identity. If the applicant is lucky, he or she was born in circumstances that led to the creation of a birth certificate in some U.S. jurisdiction, in which case the free voter I.D. will cost around $10 to $20, plus the opportunity cost associated with the time and effort required to request and receive that document.
If the voter is unlucky (as is the case for anyone whose vital records were destroyed in a fire, as in the case of my grandmother, or in many circumstances of midwife-assisted birth in Texas or California, where filing of vital records tended to be lax), then the cost will soar to somewhere between $55 and $165 or more for a passport. If the person was naturalized but lacks documentary proof, the cost is going to be around $345. For more intractable documentation problems, the costs will be much higher, and may require court proceedings to settle questions of identity and citizenship.
How many Texans are disenfranchised by picture I.D. requirements? The best guess (see the 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, “Citizens Without Proof”, and related discussions of that study.) is around 11% of the voting-age population. The percentage of poor adults without sufficient documentation is likely to be higher, as is likely also the case with lower income voters and voting age members of racial and language minorities.
Given that picture I.D. requirements impose a financial burden on voters, those requirements deserve the same opprobrium as is aimed at poll taxes and literacy tests; such burdens effectively place a price tag on citizenship. But there are choices that a legislature can make to transform a bad voter I.D. law into a somewhat less bad law. One solution is to include a “no-fault” affidavit of inability to pay costs that completely substitutes for any photo i.d. requirement.
Such a measure is still objectionable on the grounds that it stigmatizes the indigent. But at least it would allow those individuals a chance to vote. We can already see what happens to the rights of the most needy when they lack any representation at all.