Taxes Are Bad! (Unless It's a Poll Tax)

Next up? Those pesky Child Labor Laws!

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? 

20 comments

  • The elderly and especially elderly women are also affected by this, many do not have photo ID’s and it may be difficult for them to obtain.  This whole thing is nothing more than a voter suppression effort, Republicans know there is not a real problem but continue to shamelessly exploit this issue simply for political gain.

    • tonyintonawanda

       Really, elderly women don’t have ID?  I’ve never heard that one before and suspect you’re just making it up.  Considering elderly women vote Republican, doesn’t that show this isn’t voter suppression? 

      And Alan, continuing on yesterday’s back and forth, the Supreme Court said the constitution protects my Second Amendment Right to own a gun but it is reasonable to expect some level of regulation with that right….hmm, like ID to purchase one.

      Hence, showing ID doesn’t really seem to be a constitutional infringement.  And you keep quoting this very small percentages of voter fraud, yet think of all the close elections that came down to a handful of votes….any voter fraud is too much voter fraud.

      • The 2nd Amendment guarantees that people have the right to bear arms, but when that right is limited in some way, courts perform a balancing act – does the proposed restriction (ID, Brady Bill) promote a legitimate public aim and is it carefully crafted so as to minimize any infringement on constitutional rights. 

        In this case, we have years’ worth of legislation, as well as constitutional amendments, which specifically and explicitly prohibit states or the federal government from charging a poll tax – a levy that people must pay as a precondition to voting. In this case, if you’re required to obtain an ID at some monetary expense, that amounts to a federal mandate that people pay a tax in order to vote. 

        In addition, as I’ve laid out, there is no legitimate public aim at stake here. Voter fraud simply isn’t a problem. Not even a little, tiny problem. And even if it was, there are many ways in order to prevent such fraud that have a smaller, cheaper impact on constitutional liberties. For instance, in NY you have to declare your name and match your signature up. 

        So the differences are many and stark. 

      • Elderly women do not “vote Republican”, they are actually more likely to be Democrats as are most women(wisdom can come from age). As for the ID issue, many elderly women don’t drive and were not employed outside the home. For this reason they are unlikely to have a photo ID and as I stated, it may be difficult for them to obtain. BTW, this is not something I “made up”,  my wife is a Social Worker specializing in Senior Services and has first hand knowledge of this issue.

  • Many elderly African American’s – men and women – do not have the ability to get a photo ID because they don’t have birth certificates. They weren’t born in hospitals – they were born at home.This was especially true in the south.  They may have had ID at one time and let it lapse which leads to the bigger problem – needing a birth certificate along with however many other forms of ID to get a “qualified” voter ID in this day and age. It is voter suppression of of minorities anyway you look at it.

  • “In Republicanland, you need a photo ID to vote, but any idiot can walk into a Wal*Mart and buy an assault weapon. ”

    http://voices.yahoo.com/buying-gun-walmart-8477529.html

    ” The next step was to provide my identification and fill out federal
    background check paperwork. It’s a fairly long and arcane form that is
    completed by the buyer and the gunshop. Basically, the form provides the
    information required to perform the “instant background check” and
    ensures that the buyer attests to not being a felon, a mental patient,
    or under a restraining order for domestic violence.”

    http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2011/04/robert-farago/question-of-the-day-would-you-buy-a-gun-from-wal-mart/

    “Deterring Fake IDs. Participating retailers will only
    accept valid federal- or state-issued picture IDs as primary
    identification. Retailers will utilize additional ID checking
    mechanisms.”

    Even if you are an idiot you still need ID.

    • But the gun nuts would have it differently. 

      • “In Republicanland, you need a photo ID to vote, but any idiot can walk into a Wal*Mart and buy an assault weapon. ”

        Your prob correct about gun nuts but otherwise don’t mislead people insinuating that you don’t need ID to purchase a rifle at walmart. 

    • Of course any idiot can just bypass all this by going to a gun show, no need for background checks or proper ID, the NRA worked hard to exempt “hobbyists” from all those pesky regulations meant to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and crazies.

    • Also, unlike with voter fraud, America has this tiny problem with gun violence.  When the voter fraud rate reaches the murder rate, I will happily sign on for voter IDs.

      •  People kill people… not guns…   not knives.. etc…   Maybe we should ban spoons and forks.  Obesity causes loads of health issues which may lead to death if we follow your logic.

        • People kill people, not guns, unless the guns were involved in operation Fast & Furious, in which case guns kill people. 

          •  The guns were basically sold to “bad people” to begin with.  If those guns were sold to “responsible” gun nuts a agent may not have lost his life. 

        • I have heard this argument a thousand times and it never fails to amaze me.  If you seriously think our murder rate would remain the same if guns were eradicated, then you are extremely delusional. 

          •  The cat is already out of the bag.  You can ban guns tomorrow but there are 10000’s already in the hands of the population. 

          • Guns, like everything else, get old, break down or can be eventually confiscated.  So as a result, the murder rate will drop precipitously. 

            Unless you believe that America is full of people capable (or even willing) to kill people with their bare hands, it is automatic that murder rates will plummet without access to guns.

            However, we are far afield.  I am merely stating that gun ownership privileges are abused far more frequently than voting privileges, and hence, the requirement for IDs are more warranted for guns.

  • From an editorial in today’s news “While only about 8% of white people lack a government issued photo ID, about 25% of African Americans lack it”  Then there is this quote from the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives addressing the Republican State Committee on the new photo ID law “This is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania-done”

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