Fox Ignores “Significant” Costs That Come With “Free” IDs In Texas

Fox News' Greg Gutfeld doesn't see anything wrong with the Texas voter ID law that is being blocked by the Justice Department because it may violate the Voting Rights Act. Gutfeld continued to defend the law on the grounds that no voter would be disenfranchised because those who don't possess the IDs that would be required for voting will be provided with a substitute state ID for “free.” In reality, voters could incur “significant” costs to obtain these so-called “free” IDs.

On today's edition of Fox News' The Five, Gutfeld dismissed the fact that some Texas voters would struggle with obtaining a photo ID, arguing that “the IDs are free.” On March 12, Gutfeld similarly defended the law by claiming that “it's free,” adding: “I understand if you got to pay for it. But if it's free, how is it a poll tax?”

The process for applying for one of these “free” IDs -- election identification certificates for voters who have no acceptable photo ID -- would follow the way Texans apply for drivers' licenses. That means that obtaining the “free” ID would require applicants to produce other forms of identification and supporting documents, including a copy of their birth certificate, Social Security card, and proof of residency. Those without a birth certificate would be forced to spend at least $22 to get one.

A U.S. Department of Justice letter explained:

[Texas Director of Elections Keith Ingram has] informed us that the DPS-issued “free” election identification certificate, which is proposed to be implemented by Section 20 of S.B. 14, would protect voters who do not already have another acceptable form of identification. The application process for these certificates will mirror the manner in which a person obtains a driver's license. First-time applicants will be required to furnish various supplemental documents and undergo an application process that includes fingerprinting and traveling to a driver's license office.

An applicant for an election identification certificate will be required to provide two pieces of secondary identification, or one piece of secondary identification and two supporting documents. If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter's birth certificate.

DOJ went on to note that "[t]here is a statistically significant correlation between the Hispanic population percentage of a county and the percentage of a county's population that lives below the poverty line."

Indeed, civil rights group the Advancement Project has stated that the “cost of obtaining identification to vote is tantamount to a poll tax,” saying that "[m]any voters face substantial hurdles to obtaining the particular ID prescribed by the new laws." The group further argued that "[e]ven if states provide ID without cost to those who don't have one, the underlying documents necessary to procure a state ID are not cost-free, and can be difficult, time-consuming and sometimes impossible to obtain."

In written testimony before a congressional subcommittee, the Advancement Project's co-director Judith A. Browne-Dianis said:

In Texas, it costs $22. In some states, it may cost up to $45 for a birth certificate. A current U.S. passport can cost between $85 and $145, while naturalization papers can cost up to $200. Making matters more difficult, seventeen states plus Puerto Rico and Guam require a photo ID before they will issue a copy of one's birth certificate, or alternatively require multiple pieces of secondary forms of ID to get a birth certificate, which is then necessary to present in order to get a photo ID. In some states, the wait to get a copy of a birth certificate or other records can be weeks or months.

There may be other hidden costs such as transportation to various agencies and fees related to acquiring supporting documents. These significant hurdles led the Missouri Supreme Court to conclude in 2006 that the state's photo ID law amounted to a poll tax and unconstitutionally disenfranchised voters -- even if the state provided ID without cost to those who lacked one.

In its letter to Ingram, DOJ also noted that the Texas legislature failed to approve amendments that would have waived state fees for the supporting documents needed to obtain the “free” ID, writing: “The legislature tabled amendments that would have prohibited state agencies from charging for any underlying documents needed to obtain an acceptable form of photographic identification.”

The letter identified other difficulties as well, including the fact that the majority of the households that would be most impacted by this law don't have access to a car; that many of the state's counties don't have operational driver's license offices; or that those offices have limited hours.