Opinion: Voter ID Laws are the New Poll Tax

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 03:20 PM

As a liberal, I spend a lot of time talking in favor of taxation and the role that well-considered revenue plays in strengthening our country.

Well, I finally found a tax I don't like: the tax that Texas is seeking to implement on citizens seeking to vote.

Yesterday, Attorney General Holder deemed the Texas Voter ID Law a "poll tax," a charged accusation that is absolutely true. Though the AG seemed to go off-script in his commentary, this is exactly what every defender of democratic rights should call the Texas policy and the other similar efforts across the country that seek to disenfranchise voters.

There's plenty wrong with our election system that should get us steamed. We should be upset that many voting machines are less reliable than ATMs, that long lines often discourage voters, that Tuesday elections make it difficult for people who work far from home. We should be upset that states are purging voters so casually (or deviously) that people of color are disproportionately denied the right to vote. We should be concerned that formerly incarcerated Americans, who have served their time and have reentered our country as working, tax-paying citizens, often can't retrieve their voting rights.

We should be furious that politicians in many states are working to make it harder to register, not easier.

These are problems of access, of citizens facing obstacles to practicing what every civics class tells us is the basic right of living in a democratic society. Despite the hysteria, voter fraud and registration fraud are not the problems. People aren't voting as Mickey Mouse. Undocumented workers aren't being picked up at Home Depot parking lots and brought to the polls. And where those occasional cases are found, they have been demonstrated to be so few and far between that they can hardly be considered a serious, systemic threat.

Yet Voter ID laws is the favorite solution-without-a-problem for conservatives today, with the right-wing think-tank ALEC cultivating similar laws across the country before public pressure forced it to back away. The damage was already done, though, with many states making access to the polls stricter.

All of which has created more problems than the laws have solved. There are many citizens who don't have a driver's license or birth certificate, or for whom tracking one down is a costly and time-consuming process (quick: where and how would you get a replacement copy of your birth certificate if you lost yours, and how much would it cost you?). These citizens are more often poor, elderly or from minority communities. Among the younger citizens affected are students whose student IDs don't count as ID—even though a gun-owner's permit does.

We are proud of a history that has included greater and greater enfranchisement, and a tradition of striking down barriers to entry. Why would we turn our back on that American legacy? Furthermore, our nation's experience has shown that when people seek to limit access, they have done so to target communities they don't like. A new law would have to pass a high bar to prove it's not, intentionally or unintentionally, having that same effect.

Fox News will probably explode with calls for Holder to retract his comments. He shouldn't. If you are fighting to deny people the right to vote, you're on the same side of history as literacy tests. And if you require something that will cost voters, you are implementing a poll tax. And that's a tax all Americans, liberals and conservatives, oppose.


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Comments [4]


It's actually not very time consuming or expensive to obtain one's birth certificate. In less than three minutes, I went onto the website of the city in which I was born and found out how to apply for my birth certificate and that it would cost $20 for a large copy or $15 for a wallet sized copy. The procedure for anyone born in the United States should work the same way - you get your birth certificate from the town/city hall of the town/city you were born in. Not difficult at all.
As for you stating that a student ID doesn't count while a gun permit owner's does - that is perfectly reasonable. Unless student IDs have changed since I was in college, there is nothing on them identifying the student as a legal United States citizen. Only legal United States citizens are allowed to vote, so a student ID won't suffice to prove one's legal status. Gun permits, on the other hand, are issued after extensive background checks and proof is provided that the applicant is a legal resident of the United States.

Oct. 09 2014 12:16 PM

Are we sure that the problem is that people are trying to prevent too many people from voting? Might it not be in the country's best interests to find ways to prevent more people from being able to vote?

If we could restrict Republicans and Democrats from being able to vote, we might find that we could get rational, productive and effective people into our elected governmental positions. But then they would just leave the parties and interject their deficiencies into the process all over again. So we probably should seek a method for qualifying voters that expands the rolls to all eligible voters. Do you think it's really a hard problem to solve? Yes, it is for our current political leaders, for policy makers, and evidently for lawyers and experts; but No, it's not really that hard. You just really want to do it, instead of just pretend you want it.

Jul. 11 2012 10:54 PM
Justin Krebs from NYC

Listener -

Afraid I'm not sure what you mean.

Right now, I receive healthcare without a photo ID. Could you expand on your point?

Jul. 11 2012 10:54 PM

"..quick: where and how would you get a replacement copy of your birth certificate if you lost yours, and how much would it cost you?

Better find out quick before Obamacare kicks in because unlike voting, healthcare is one "civil right" we will need a photo ID for if we want it. That sort of makes sense since going to the doctor will not be unlike going to the DMV. Hopefully with the Obamacare tax repeal it will be a moot point this time next year.

Jul. 11 2012 08:32 PM

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