For some voters, it costs $58.50 to vote in an election. That’s more than enough to keep voters away from polls, according to a new report. Thirty-three states require all eligible voters to show ID at the polling station and, in doing so, add a hidden cost to voting: While casting a ballot is technically free, getting proper identification is not. Many voter-ID laws came about after Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002, which was intended to address concerns of voter fraud and irregularity in the 2000 presidential election. While concerns about fraud are widespread, research shows that it occurs very rarely. The cost of obtaining an ID affects voter participation, and can disproportionately drive down turnout among African-American voters and 18-to-23-year-olds.
The Government Accountability Office studied the effect that voter-ID laws have on turnout in the 17 states that require voters to show government-issued ID at the polls. Driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs are the two most common forms of identification, and they don’t run cheap. An inexpensive driver’s license will set you back just under $15, but some states’ cost almost $60.
Sixteen of the 17 states in the study offer a free alternative to driver’s licenses or state IDs for residents. But even these free IDs aren’t really free: to get one, residents must prove their identity and usually have to pay to obtain a separate identification document. Getting a birth certificate, one of the most common kinds of documents applicants use, can cost as much as $25.