by Mlle. Cherry
California requires a valid driver’s license to exercise the right to vote, and that new residents acquire new tags and registration immediately upon relocation.
I am no stranger to navigating the cogs of huge bureaucracies, government and otherwise: indeed, I meet most checkout lines, physician’s waiting rooms, financial aid offices, and the fiery circus hoops of SRS with a zen-like, glassy eyed, serene acceptance. I am a good and understanding citizen. I am a patient and grateful consumer. I know that with some things- with the terror of hospitals, with the shame of food stamps, with the endless loop of bullshit you find yourself in while attempting to enroll at university- it is best not to ask why. It is best to be a robot.
It is best to use the hours you spend waiting for your number to be called to list in your robot brain all of the justifications for arbitrary policies and exorbitant fees. These things are like Kansas weather: I won’t complain about it. It simply is.
“Es muss sein? Es muss sein.”
So this isn’t another rant against the DMV, or its overworked (and probably underpaid) employees. (See what an apologist I am? What a good little robot?) This is an observation. And I want to share it with you, because I think that I didn’t understand this issue until it became my issue. I am not a politician and have only a basic grasp of economics. But as with government assistance, abortion, motherhood (single or otherwise), and many other sensitive but sexy political issues, it is difficult to really (and I mean really) begin to understand it until it does become your issue.
Establishing residency and switching your tags, registration, and license to California requires many, many documents. The list online was incomplete, and so I was sent home several times to retrieve more documents the clerks forgot to mention. It turned into an odyssey. A very expensive and time consuming odyssey.
So I put my robot skills (four ex-boyfriends have declared me cold, calculating, and devoid of human emotion, by the way, and four ex-boyfriends can’t be wrong) to good use and calculated the cost of my driver’s license, which is all I need to exercise my right as a US Citizen to vote. While I was at it, I thought about all of the people who for one reason or another have few resources but who have the same right to vote as I.
Total trips to the El Cerrito DMV: 5
Total Wait time: 7 hours
In California, you can go online or call to make an appointment, which I did. If I didn’t have a phone or access to the internet to make this appointment (as many low income people do not), my estimated wait time would have been about 30 hours all together.
Let’s say I’m a single mom in California (about 40% of California moms are single) working a minimum wage job to support my babies (only about 50% of single moms in California have jobs, though, so let’s assume that I am one of the lucky ones). California minimum wage is $8. Multiply that by the number of estimated hours I’ve had to miss work (assuming my employer allows it), and you get about $240.
I won’t estimate child care costs: I will just assume that I can’t afford them and thus brought my infant with me to the DMV. All 30 hours of it.
Documents needed: birth certificate, vehicle registration, smog test, vehicle inspection, statement of facts, divorce papers.
- Smog Test: $38
- Douglas County Court Records to Show Proof of My Disastrous and Ultimately Terminated Marriage, Which Has No Bearing On My Present or Future: $26
- Registration/License Plate Fees and Taxes: $200
- Driver’s License Fee: $40
- Estimated Fuel Cost: $6
Actual Cost of My California Driver’s License, My Vehicle Registration, and My Voting Rights: $310
Estimated Cost for Our Hypothetical Working Single Mother in California (there are over 600,000 of them): $550
This is why people are so angry, or should be, about being required to present a valid state driver’s license at the polls. I don’t know anyone who can put up either amount on the spur of the moment without having to choose to go without food, electricity, and/or water for a month. The total cost would change, of course, if the potential voter had no car: but so would the time and wages lost to long bus rides to the DMV to get a license.
There has to be a way to prevent “voter fraud” without disenfranchising those who are living in poverty. Voting should be free, and voting should be easy. I get it now.