In the US, for persons eligible, the relative costs or feasibility of obtaining, (or if necessary, maintaining), some current valid form of Voter ID varies by situation or condition.

Particularly with respect to age, domestic stability, mobility, financial status, occupational situation, which demographic groups, and combinations thereof, generally have it the worst? And if it's a tie, which group is the largest?

Note: "relative costs" here means resources spent obtaining or maintaining Voter ID by a citizen relative to that citizen's available resources, and outside of their usual expenses if they did not obtain an ID. Resources spent might be:

  • money, (spent on the ID itself, or some required prerequisite thing or action like additional credentials or transport)
  • labor, (i.e. dealing with bureaucracy)
  • time, (spent dealing the bureaucracy, travel, waiting in lines, etc.)

An example of relative costs would be a trip across a city to its registry of vital records to ascertain whether some promptly needed document still exists.

  • If one works in the city nearby, drives by car, and there is ample free parking, the costs of transport are negligible. Time spent in line might be lost labor however.

  • A carless pensioner in an outer borough of the city might not be able to afford the cabfare, and thus spend two or three hours getting there and back if the public transportation doesn't line up quite right. No lost labor, but a greater time loss.

  • Can you please clarify what you mean by "maintaining"? Absent catastrophic failure (your house burns down with all your documents), most valid voting-eligible IDs are not in need of "maintenance" (perhaps a driver's license, which - at least in my state - can be renewed by post or web site in 10 minutes at a cost of less than a single restaurant meal once every 4 years).
    – user4012
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:12
  • 2
    @user4012, Fires are rarer catastrophes. Far more common: Stolen or lost wallets. Or suppose an apartment renter is broke, owes rent, gets evicted, then the landlord throws the renters' stuff, (and file cabinet), in the trash. Or the renter can't pay his self-storage unit bills, but is out of state, the contents of the unit are sold, and personal files dumped. Meanwhile the renter migrates from state to state looking for a job, but these are short term, obliging more moves. Needed documents go the old addresses -- more forwarding means more points of failure.
    – agc
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:23
  • @agc - every state has different- and often drastically different - requirements. The costs can vary from literally $0 annually to $10/$20 a year.
    – user4012
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 17:37
  • @njuffa, Thanks, see added note on "relative costs".
    – agc
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 18:09
  • 1
    @agc "all of them": requirements vary widely. The answer will be different in different states. I have never shown an ID to vote, for example, in five states.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


To fully answer the question, each state or territory that requires an ID would have to be considered separately.

For example, for Virginia:

Any registered voter who does not possess one of the above mentioned forms of photo ID, may apply for a free Virginia Voter Photo Identification from any general registrar’s office in the Commonwealth. [The word "free" is underlined in the original text].

See also:

Virginia Voter Photo Identification cards are available, free-of-charge, from any General Registrar’s office in Virginia.

So no direct money is required and no prerequisite documents are required.

Therefore, it would be most difficult for mobility/transportation impaired individuals. However, this problem is mostly alleviated by permitting mail-in absentee ballot voting without an ID.

  • 3
    Using a state as an example where obtaining a photo ID is particularly easy is a bit cherry-picking. This answer could be improved by also providing an examples from a state where it is particularly difficult.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 11:46
  • @Philipp That's just where I live, not trying to cherry pick. From the comments below the question, it seems other states are easier and allow utility bills or credit cards or bank statements to be used, which aren't allowed here.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 11:50
  • @Philipp This says Virginia is one of the 7 most strict states ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/voter-id.aspx and refers to a federal court decision concerning Wisconsin that requires IDs to be free. Is there any state that requires a photo ID, but doesn't give it for free?
    – DavePhD
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 12:13
  • @Philipp - 100% of objections to my answer used cherry-picked examples (specifically, Kansas).
    – user4012
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 12:26
  • Re "mobility/transportation impaired": Some states neglect to establish enough offices where citizens may initially obtain voting credentials. In such cases is it is the locations themselves that impair the citizenry through no fault of their own.
    – agc
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 4:59

The main demographics that has it "the worst" are

  1. Significantly older people, who were born so far ago that the chances of them having lost their main documents (e.g. birth certificate) are higher, the chances that they have recently needed some sort of ID is lower (they haven't traveled in a while) and the chances to reconstitute their identity are lower (it's easy to get a copy of birth certificate from 30 years ago, but probably less likely from 90 years ago for a variety of reasons).

  2. Truly homeless, who have no proof of address (which is usually a hard to avoid step in obtaining other documents). Of course, some shelters offer proof of address, but I doubt many homeless have a shelter spot.

If you discount those two edge cases, no demographic can legitimately claim "difficulty" in obtaining and especially "maintaining" an ID as a mass of people (yes, you can always find anecdotal sob story or two, but as we all know, multiple of "anecdote" isn't "data").

First of all, because majority of states have extremely lax voting "ID" requirements, if you call them that. For example, California, as documented in my answer here citing CA's official documents, requires - at the very worst case (and there are less onerous ways to vote), one of each of the following 2 categories:

(1) Current and valid photo identification provided by a third party in the ordinary course of business that includes the name and photograph of the individual presenting it. Examples of photo identification include, but are not limited to, the following documents

(E) credit or debit card; (G) student identification card; (H) health club identification card; (I) insurance plan identification card; (J) public housing identification card.

Note that even a picture credit card is acceptable - when I used to have one, the maintenance cost was literally $0 - of course, I was one of those conscientious people who paid off my CC bill on time and generally used CC as a debit card, incurring no interest or fees (as a poor recent first generation immigrant, before someone starts screaming some Marxist 'privilege' argument).

And a driver's license or a non-drivers ID typically cost $25 to renew every 4 years (these are NJ costs), so the "maintenance" cost is $6/year even for that. As it can be done by mail, you cannot claim labor/transportation costs, but I suppose it would be fair to add 60 cents on a stamp, for annualized 15 extra cents of cost.

(2) Any of the following documents, provided that the document includes the name and address of the individual presenting it, and is dated since the date of the last general election...

(A) utility bill; (B) bank statement; (C) government check; (O) identification documents issued by governmental disability agencies; (P) identification documents issued by government homeless shelters and other government temporary or transitional facilities.

Again, the "maintenance" cost to having one of these is $0 - everyone has one, including the homeless in shelters. And nearly everyone either pays bills, OR, gets paychecks, OR gets government assistance, which means they have a guaranteed form of acceptable ID for this.

The acceptable IDs even include justice system discharge papers, meaning you can't even claim that people who were imprisoned are somehow negatively affected as a group.

Even if you take the most strict possible law (like Kansas's recently overturned one), the difficulty is minimal.

First time voters only are required to show an ID that proves citizenship, such as Birth certificate; U.S. passport; U.S. naturalization documents.

  • The cost of birth certificate to a person is $0 (their parents paid it) and it never expires, so $0 "maintenance" cost. Even in the outlier unlikely case that they lost their birth certificate, a copy can be obtained cheaply (an expensive state like NY charges only $17.75). Remember that to even need this cost, you must have BOTH lost your birth certificate AND have never been registered to vote.

  • The cost of certificate of naturalization is $0. You get it for free when you become a citizen (reference: my own experience). If you're a naturalized citizen, you have that document as a free byproduct of a (otherwise rather expensive) process. And it never expires, so maintenance cost is also $0.

  • The cost to "maintain" a US passport is as per @njuffa's comment $11/year ($110/10 years) or $13/year for first time passport applicants. They are renewable by mail and therefore also have no transportation/labour cost.

Again, an important point is that, while the question - and much discussion on the topic - starts with an extreme case scenario of "if they did not obtain the id", in reality, an overwhelming majority of US citizens already possess on of the acceptable forms of ID just to be able to live here. You cannot board an airplane, or a train, or drive a car without an ID. You cannot get government assistance without an ID, so that immediately cancels out low-income people who get government assistance from your list of possibly affected people.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 11:37

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