As executive director for Publius, a voter-education nonprofit in Michigan, Vincent Keenan got well acquainted with an odd phenomenon in his hometown of Detroit: A troubling number of residents aren't registered to vote in the Motor City.
The reason has nothing to do with citizen apathy.
Instead they are registered to vote in the suburbs, where car insurance is cheaper. They use an address outside the city to renew their driver's licenses and register, then report that address to insurers.
"It's an amazingly pervasive piece of information about living in the city of Detroit that people pick up on incredibly quickly," Keenan says. "It is effectively a poll tax."
The impact on voter registration is just one of the consequences of the city's sky-high car insurance rates. Another: Lots of folks don't buy insurance.
Michigan has one of the highest uninsured driver rates, with an estimated 19 percent of motorists going without insurance, according to the latest Insurance Research Council study. But estimates for the uninsured rate in Detroit are even higher.
In a commentary for the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault, Melvin Butch Hollowell, former Michigan insurance consumer advocate, put the number at 60 percent.
Good driver? $4,000 a year
While Michigan's car insurance rates are already high compared with other states, Detroit's are in another league.
Keenan, who's now running for City Council, knows firsthand. About 10 years ago he moved just one block from outside the city limits to inside Detroit. His car insurance premiums tripled.
In the most expensive areas of Detroit, according to an analysis of rates from six major car insurance carriers, the average rate for a 40-year-old driver with full coverage on a 2012 Honda Accord is about $4,500 a year. Move a ZIP code or two outside the city and those rates drop by half or more.
And that's for a driver with a clean record. Poor credit or violations would drive that number up considerably. Only some areas of Brooklyn, N.Y., can rival Detroit for whopping car insurance bills.
No wonder some Detroiters fall for fake insurance scams or make the decision to go without.
But getting caught means a fine of up to $500 -- and also much higher rates when they finally do buy insurance. Failure to pay means a suspended license, and in turn higher rates again because of the suspension.