A poll tax is defined as “a tax of fixed amount each adult has to pay in order to vote in an election.” Passed after the Civil War throughout most of the South, they- along with literacy tests- were designed to prevent newly freed slaves (and poor whites) from voting. Of course, poll taxes are now unconstitutional. Recently, a voter ID law was allowed to go into effect in Texas which prompted a strong dissent in a per curiam decision from the Supreme Court from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who stated that it “may amount to a poll tax.”
In today’s world, it takes a valid form of identification, usually with a photograph, to board an airplane or sign a cell phone contract. Proof of residency is required to register your child at school, to get a job and a host of other things. Technically (although it rarely happens) one should show identification when conducting a credit card transaction. The list goes on and on regarding the number of things for which identification is required. In order to vote, obtaining and presenting the requisite identification is now a poll tax?
At the District Court level when the original injunction was issued against enforcement of the Texas law, the judge in that case mentioned that the law had the possible effect of preventing up to 400,000 Latinos and/or African-Americans from voting. This suggests that there are a potential 400,000 legal residents on Texas lacking in identification. One has to wonder how many of these potential 400,000 Texans have cell phones, credit cards or anything else for which one needs valid identification. We heard the same complaints about Wisconsin that if the courts there had allowed their voter ID law to go into effect, it would disenfranchise up to 300,000 voters. Those 300,000 “poor” Wisconsin voters were thus allowed to vote and Scott Walker won anyway and, in fact, Republicans made substantial gains in the state legislature. In short, the GOP did not have to suppress or discourage voters in Texas or Wisconsin through voter ID laws; they won regardless. This sort of upsets the arguments that voter ID laws are designed by Republicans to discourage minority voters.
It is also somewhat a racist attitude by those on the Left to make a blanket assumption that only Latinos and blacks would feel the brunt of these laws, if there is even an effect to be felt. That is like saying only blacks and Hispanics are too poor or too stupid to get valid ID. Furthermore, we can look at the actual real world effects of voter ID laws on voter turnout and minority participation, not some theoretical musings of a judge, the NAACP and the League of Women Voters.
In terms of their proportion of the overall state population, the African-American population in Georgia and Mississippi largely mirror one another. Of course, Georgia has an overall larger population, but the proportion of blacks is roughly equal. In every election since Georgia’s voter ID went into effect, minority voter turnout has been greater in Georgia than in Mississippi. One has to ask why this is and the explanation is simple- the voter is more assured of the validity of the vote. Likewise, more than a decade of voter ID in Indiana has revealed that there has been no suppression of the minority vote whatsoever.
In Georgia this year, African-Americans made up 29% of the electorate. In Texas, Latinos were 17% of the electorate this year. In the 2010 midterm elections in Texas, Latino turnout was 17% of the electorate and in Georgia, there is no data available. But in the case of Texas one can see that there was absolutely no deleterious effect on Latino turnout. In 2012 in Georgia, despite an allegedly onerous voter ID law in effect, 62.3% of registered blacks voted which is higher than the number of registered whites who voted (59.2%).
Admittedly, different things may motivate different segments of the electorate to vote in any particular year. The presence of an African-American on the ballot may motivate that segment while a Latino may motivate Hispanics to vote in a higher proportion. However, it is a strong reach of logic to suggest that strict voter ID laws suppress votes or deter people from registering in the first place.
At the very least, these laws should go into effect and then determine whether there is an actual effect on voter turnout. We should not rely on statistical prognostication and fear-mongering by special interest groups who treat the people they allegedly represent as illiterate dolts unable to obtain valid identification. Better yet: instead of fighting laws in the courts, perhaps they can divert some of that money to actually helping the alleged 400,000 in Texas, the alleged 300,000 in Wisconsin and thousands of others elsewhere to obtain valid identification.
The very liberal Brennan Center for Justice notes that the actual number of voter fraud cases prosecuted in any given year is extremely small. Left unsaid is the number of voter fraud cases not prosecuted or even investigated. Yet annually there are numerous examples from many varied states of people attempting to vote twice, or being non-residents, or tampering with absentee ballots, etc. Because these incidents may not be prosecuted makes the transgressions no less real. Ginsburg, in her dissent, notes that Texas had only two prosecutions for voter fraud and that therefore there was no need for such a law. It is that line of thinking that propels the Left’s view of supposedly “non-existent” voter fraud. It is like burying one’s head in the sand of chosen statistics.
The only thing that separates the laws in Texas and elsewhere currently being litigated is that they are occurring in the South and Eric Holder and the Justice Department have a racial ax to grind against this area of the country. My guess is that the Left is against strong voter ID laws not because of a fear of suppressing minority votes, but because of what those laws will catch and reveal. While people elsewhere around the globe fight and die to have the right to vote, we anguish over the silliness of an easily obtained photo ID.