“Free” Voter-IDs Cost More Than Poll Taxes

Vote Baby Vote!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):

The report aptly presents voting restrictions as a modern form of the poll tax, which was outlawed in 1964. Indeed, the costs of contemporary voter ID requirements, even in inflation-adjusted terms, is many times the level of the poll taxes that existed before they were outlawed in 1964.

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 1. 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.

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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on ““Free” Voter-IDs Cost More Than Poll Taxes

  1. There’s one way this could work out (besides judges throwing it onto the dustbin) that might be OK. If voter ID laws are approved by judges with a simple caveat; once you require voters to have current-address ID, you’ve got to hunt down every voter everywhere and make damn sure they have free ID, because voting is, under our existing laws, an absolute right. (If some don’t want it to be a right, that’s their democratic prerogative, and they should change the Constitution.)

    Making sure everyone had IDs would hugely time-consuming. It’d also help people who can’t cash checks at regular banks and do lots of other things you need a current-address ID for. I’d have no problem with that . . .

    • Yeah, that would be fine because it would be impossible! But now that we give out Social Security cards when people are born, we could go with that. That’s why photo ID requirements are so pernicious. And in some places, college IDs are not accepted. The whole thing makes me crazy! We shouldn’t even be talking about this stuff. If there were a god of democracy, he would be smiting Republicans all over America. Frankly, I think we need a good deal more smiting in this country!

  2. Institute a new federal photo ID, at very low cost to every citizen. Make it very easy to get a new one for a person who moves. Require that all states and counties accept such ID for voting, etc. Anyone who complains about this will be seen by everyone (except some of the 27%) to be the authoritarians they are.

    • No. What is “very low cost”? People should be able to vote without the cost of anything. I can think of some ways to make this work without any direct costs: like just go to the post office. But why?! Voter-ID is a solution looking for a problem. There is no in-person voter fraud problem. It is an effort by partisans to disenfranchise the other side. I see no reason to pander to them. And regardless, all of this takes time, which is all the Republicans are using it for. They continue to stall hoping they can figure out a way to appeal to other voters without losing a single one they already have.

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