Taxes Are Bad! (Unless It's a Poll Tax)
Just a few weeks ago, the vast majority of Americans were redirected to their dusty copies of the Constitution, and perhaps many of them felt compelled to re-read Article 1, Section 8, which enumerates the rights and powers of Congress. Among its express powers is the power to levy taxes.
As Chris Smith wrote in Thursday’s Morning Grumpy, there is a massive right-wing push to establish voter ID laws throughout the country, this despite the fact that actual, credible instances of voter fraud represented .000002% of all votes cast in 2011. In Texas, it’s .0001% since 2002. If voter fraud was as prevalent as certain conservatives claim it to be, we’d retain the services of the UN or EU to monitor our elections for irregularities, like some third world kleptocracy with an disproportionately powerful, wealthy elite and massive income inequalit…. wait, what?
In fact, the most visible forms of voter fraud have been perpetrated by idiot propagandists like James O’Keefe, who sends people to appear at polling places claiming to be someone they’re not and attempting to vote, to show how easy it is to commit voter fraud. You know, someone could prove how easy it is to blow up a bridge by blowing up a bridge, but that’d be silly and dangerous.
Our conservative-led march into some Dickensian fever-dream of an exploitative third world banana republic notwithstanding, the right to vote is basic and fundamental. It is a constitutional guarantee held by every law abiding citizen – you can only lose the right to vote in certain states, under certain circumstances involving the “law abiding” part. And historically, our voting laws – indeed, in most cases our Constitution itself – have steadily and consistently expanded the people’s rights over the past 200+ years, to non-property holders, to naturalized citizens, to non-whites, to women, to people 18 and over, to DC residents, etc.
In Republicanland, you need a photo ID to vote, but any idiot can walk into a Wal*Mart and buy an assault weapon.
We’ve talked a lot throughout the health care debate about government mandates requiring people to engage in certain economic activity. While the Republican Party now vehemently opposes the insurance mandate it had valiantly championed at a time before President Obama moved to Washington, it is now instead championing a photo ID mandate for any eligible voter.
The 24th Amendment to the Constitution reads, in relevant part: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
That photo ID mandate doesn’t come particularly cheaply, nor is it carefully crafted to avoid constitutional harm or to fix a big public problem. The Texas law, for instance, was invalidated under the Voting Rights Act because it was discriminatory. It was found that as many as 1.4 MM registered Texas voters did not have photo ID, and the vast majority of them happened to be Hispanic or black. According to Texas’ own numbers, a Hispanic voter is between 47 – 120% more likely to not have photo ID than a non-Hispanic voter.
Hispanics in Texas, who vote solidly Democratic, are not only more likely to lack ID compared to white voters, but will have a harder time obtaining the voter ID required by the state. There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. Hispanics in Texas are also twice as likely as whites to not have a car. “During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driver’s license office,” wrote DOJ.
The law also places a significant burden on low-income residents. Texas is required to provide a free ID to voters, but an applicant must possess supporting documentation in order to qualify. “If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate,” DOJ noted. That expenditure can be rightly construed as a poll tax, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited.
So, in order to “fix” a non-existent voter fraud “problem”, the Republican Party is perfectly willing to mandate that people spend money to obtain an ID at some expense in order to exercise a fundamental civil right we call “casting a vote.” I don’t know what you call that, but I call it a “tax”.
Poll taxes were part of the Jim Crow laws, designed to disenfranchise the poor and the Black. A Supreme Court ruling in 1937 held them to be constitutional, and several southern states charged certain portions of the population to exercise their right to vote. In 1964 poll taxes were banned by the 24th Amendment to the Constitution, and the Supreme Court extended that abolition to state elections in 1966. Here is a chart of states requiring ID – some pass legal muster, others don’t.
But let’s not play make-believe any more. The Republican proponents of these modern-day poll taxes are advocating for a regression back to Jim Crow. They are doing so by manufacturing a legal-sounding pretext of fraud, but the real purpose of these statutes and similar efforts in Florida to purge the voter registration rolls of supposed ineligible people (and getting it wrong), is to help Republicans and hurt Democrats.
Not only is it a despicable display of anti-Americanism to impose an ID mandate and tax on the poor, the black, and the Hispanic to prevent them from voting Democratic, but it is a cynical admission that the Republican Party has shrunken into a regional, reactionary, theocratic party of the xenophobic and the rich. That the easiest way for them to obtain power is to cheat the system and prevent voters from reaching a ballot box.
Where’s that posse of constitution-champions calling themselves the “tea party” now?