In New York City, we get used to sticker shock: $15 for a mojito: ok I’ll nurse it all night. Try insuring a car or even just parking it, forget about it—I’ll ride the subway. Rent for two human beings with walls and doors, oh that’s going to cost you— time to move to an outer borough. But recently I had a new source of outrage: the cost of renewing a NYS driver’s license.
At first my renewal process was swimming along nicely. I was at the DMV Xpress which for the DMV was moving along at lightening pace: my picture was snapped by the surly woman behind the counter who didn’t give me enough warning to even crack a smile, the eye exam was done to confirm that yes indeed the glasses that I wear every hour of every day would also need to be worn while I’m behind the wheel and only a full hour later I got down to the real business: whipping out my debit card.
“Did you say $15?” I thought I had gotten off easy.
“No. $50. FIVE ZERO.” I choked. That didn’t seem right. But this is a basic form of I.D. I thought. Especially in the “new normal” of 2007 where not having a valid I.D. can cost a citizen her voting rights. I handed over my debit card. At least I’ll get miles on this transaction.
A friend of mine is a vice president at Greenwich Capitol. His birthday is two days after mine and so you guessed it, he also has a soon to be expired NYS driving license. He told me he was heading to the DMV soon. I told him to bring his check book. He was incredulous. “Fifty freaking dollars for a new license? You’re kidding! Maybe I won’t bother to renew.” But we both knew that this was a bluff and since I’m a lawyer and he is an economist we can afford the $50 hit.
But this is not true of everyone. $50 for an I.D. is enough to prevent many from getting one. This cost barrier may explain why only about half of New York City residents even have a driver’s license. And if a disturbing trend continues in which photo I.D.s are a prerequisite to voting, this $50 piece of plastic may act as a barrier to our most basic constitutional rights. This is one reason why making photo I.D.s a voting requirement makes no sense. People should not lose their franchise just because they don’t have $50 to drop on a driver’s license. Maybe they have other bills to pay, like that crazy rent which come January is set to jump even higher.
--Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Counsel, Democracy Program