This morning, Jonathan Chait wrote about some research that concludes something that I’ve been pushing for a while. It is that voter-ID laws are just a new form of poll taxes. If the people pushing these laws were really concerned about in-person voter fraud, they would have provided funding for photo identification. And they didn’t. They only added this when the courts made them. This is because the truth of the matter is that voter-ID laws have never been about supporting democracy; they have always been about tearing it down.
I’m not saying that the people who are concerned about voter fraud are actually anti-democratic. I think it is simply that in their minds shadowy people running around voting multiple times takes on a mythic quality. The rational concerns about voter disenfranchisement are nothing compared to what has become an existential threat to democracy in their minds. Of course, I’m talking about the Fox News viewers here. I think the Republican operatives who are pushing these laws are doing it as cynically as the people who created the poll taxes.
Here’s Chait’s summary of Richard Sobel’s report, The High Cost of “Free” Photo Voter Identification Cards (pdf):
And this isn’t even including the fact that some people don’t have the necessary documents to get photo-ID. For example, if I had to do so, I have no idea where either my birth certificate or my Social Security card is. But I’m sure I could manage getting photo ID if I didn’t already have it. I’m motivated and I have a lot of resources. But that’s the whole point of voter-ID laws. It isn’t to stop people like me from voting. It’s just meant to make it an bigger pain to vote for a certain kind of person — a poor person — a person more likely to vote Democratic.
But I’m not surprised that Republicans would look out at the electorate and decide that their best chances were to stop people from voting by creating the Poll Tax V 2.0. What I am surprised about is how conservatives in the federal court system would not find this a clear violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. Let me just quote that amendment in its entirety. It ain’t complicated:
Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
I suppose that we can quibble about exactly what a tax is. But the sad thing is that we have to. Republicans have been complaining for decades about liberal judges “legislating from the bench.” And I certainly think that some of that went on in the 1960s and 1970s. I still think that erring on the side of the weak is a relatively small sin. But during my entire adult life, it has been the conservatives who have “legislated from the bench.” And they have done it most abusively in giving more and more rights to companies and fewer and fewer rights to individuals.
And now we have five members of the Supreme Court who will twist themselves into knots to avoid seeing that the new voter-ID laws are just an update of the old poll taxes that were meant to disenfranchise a certain kind of voter. Will we need a Twenty-Eighth Amendment? The Twenty-Seventh Amendment took over two centuries for ratification. I don’t think we have that long.