Voter ID: The New Poll Tax

“… many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them – and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes…” – Attorney General Eric Holder speaking at the 2012 NAACP Conference

       In 2010, Republican Governors and legislators took over Statehouses across the country and made voter fraud one of their primary issues. The only problem with the Republicans desire to eliminate voter fraud is that is does more harm than good by disenfranchising eligible voters. Voter fraud is not a problem in this country, as a matter of fact, voter participation is a bigger problem than voter fraud in America, only 37.8% of eligible voters participated in the 2010 mid-term elections and 56.8% of eligible voters voted in the 2008 Presidential Election. So, why have Republicans decided to “fight” against voter fraud?  They believe by disenfranchising eligible voters it will help them win elections.

The United States have a long, sad history of disenfranchising voters. Women were not given the right to vote until 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment and African-Americans were not fully granted the right to vote until passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified which granted African Americans voting rights, but efforts were made to marginalize and eliminate the African-American vote in Southern states, these efforts included implementing a literacy test, grandfather clause, and poll tax.

“In U.S. practice, a poll tax was used as a de facto or implicit pre-condition of the exercise of the ability to vote. This tax emerged in some states of the United States in the late 19th century as part of the Jim Crow laws. After the ability to vote was extended to all races by the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment, many Southern states enacted poll tax laws as a means of restricting eligible voters; such laws often included a grandfather clause, which allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. These laws, along with unfairly implemented literacy tests and extra-legal intimidation, achieved the desired effect of disfranchising African-American and Native American voters, as well as poor whites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poll_tax_%28United_States%29).”

Recent Republican efforts to implement a voter id requirement to voting are akin to implementing a poll tax.

“In 2011 and 2012, 11 states have passed new voter ID laws. Not coincidentally, the impetus has come from Republicans. In an embarrassing display of candor, the Republican leader of Pennsylvania’s House, in rattling off a series of legislative accomplishments, said, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done!” Republican-controlled legislatures also have enacted restrictions on early voting, including voting on Sundays (a day African American churches often sponsor “Souls to the Polls” programs), and ended same-day registration (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-ed-voter-id-laws-20120716,0,6515750.story).”

Now, on the surface to say that we should protect against voter fraud is a sound idea, but a 2007, extensive report by the Brennan Center for Justice revealed that voter fraud is exceedingly rare and that “one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud”:

“… the Brennan Center released The Truth About Voter Fraud, the most extensive analysis of voter fraud claims to date. The report finds that most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless—and that of the few allegations remaining, most reveal election irregularities and other forms of election misconduct, rather than fraud by individual voters. The type of individual voter fraud supposedly targeted by recent legislative efforts—especially efforts to require certain forms of voter ID—simply does not exist (http://www.brennancenter.org/content/section/category/allegations_of_voter_fraud/).

       New voter id laws are nothing more than an effort by the Republican Party to suppress voters that are more likely to vote for Democratic nominees in an election. These voter id laws will affect African Americans, Latinos, and the poor the most, just like the Jim Crow Era Poll Tax.

In 1964, the 24th Amendment was ratified essentially eliminating the Jim Crow Era Poll Tax. The new voter id laws passed in 11 states creates a new poll tax because those who do not possess or do not have the money or time to purchase an id will be denied the right to vote. The constitution grants the right to vote to every eligible citizen, there is nothing in the constitution that says every citizen must obtain a photo id. If States want to require every citizen to possess a state approved id in order to vote than it is that state’s obligation to provide each citizen of that state with a free id and make the process of obtaining such an id easy. As a citizen of the United States you should not have to pay a fee in order to vote.

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