In my recent post about the new PA voter ID law, I noted that a very, very significant number of registered voters – up to 18% of all registered voters in Philadelphia (home to half of the state’s African-American population) – may not currently possess an identification card that will allow them to vote in November. Supporters of these laws argue that requiring people to get an ID is a small price to pay in order to prevent voter fraud. It seems worth figuring out what the actual supplemental cost of voting is for those who currently lack required ID. I therefore present may totally back-of-the-envelope calculation of the poll-tax assessed by PA’s voter ID law. I use the working assumption that time is worth 7.25/hour. This is a fiction if the preparation time does not actually displace paid labor, but does allow us to monetize the cost of voting to be allocated to ID acquisition. I assume that photocopies cost .15 per page and that all mailings can be done for .45 first class postage. I also assume that this is all occuring in Philadelphia County, where there is public transportation to help you get to one of the five DMV locations in the county. In other counties, a person without a driver may have to spend even more to get cab service. Of course, some people will be able to get a ride – but given gas prices (and the cost of parking in cities), it seems unlikely that the effective cost of such travel will be less than the SEPTA public transit fare of $2 each way. More elaborate details on my calculations appear at the bottom of the post. And yes: I recognize that some people miss work, school or other activities in order to vote. I assume, however, that this cost is borne by all voters.
1. Grab your Social Security card. Hopefully you have it in hand, if you don’t – if, for example, you’re retired or you just lost it – you’ll have to order one. Cost of Acquiring Social Security Card. $8.00
2. Grab your birth certificate with raised stamp, or certificate of citizenship or naturalization. If you don’t have one in hand, you’ll need to order one and I assume that the average person would be ordering a birth certificate from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Cost of Acquiring a birth certificate in PA. $19.00
3. Grab two proofs residency like lease agreements, utility bills, W-2 forms, and the like. I will assume that you have some version of this around the house to take with you to the DMV.
4. Head to the DMV! Since you can’t drive, you’ll probably be taking public transit – $4 roundtrip. A reasonable guess is that it will take you 90 minutes roundtrip to get to the nearest facility. And given normal waits, it seems equally fair to assume the visit itself will take 60 minutes. 2.5 hours time is worth $18.12. But good news – they’ll waive the ID fee if you sign an affidavit that you need it to vote! Total cost of the DMV trip: $22.12.
Thus, if you have all your documents ready and at hand, the total cost of voting is $22.12. But if you don’t have all your documents right now, that’s probably because you don’t need them right now – and thus the cost of obtaining new ones is entirely caused by the voter ID law. If you need to acquire a Social Security Card, total cost of voting is $30.12. If you need to get a birth certificate, total cost of voting is $40.12. And if you need both a Social Security card and a birth certificate, total cost of voting is $48.12.
What to make of this? For those concerned about fraud, a $48 fee may seem like a minimal price-tag. But since this cost is allocated only to a sub-population, I propose that the state compensate those who need an ID by this amount. Why should this sub-population be required to fully subsidize the state’s anti-fraud efforts? If all citizens gain from requiring ID’s, a reasonable person might conclude that voters who bear the brunt of this effort should receive both their PA issued photo-ID and a compensation check in the mail. If legislators supporter voter ID requirements were willing to step up to the plate with a $40 reimbursement to those forced to acquire proper ID, I’d be far less cynical about their motives.