Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Poll Tax is Back

What do you think of when you think of America?  Do you think of pie?  Sports?  Or do you think of something more important, more visceral, more righteous?  Do you think of freedom?

I do.
The most important freedom of all.

One of the most important freedoms we have is the freedom to vote.  Unfettered access to the polls is one of the most vital freedoms that an American citizen can have.  Voting is the foundation of our liberty, for through voting, our government is made answerable to us.  If we cannot freely vote, then we cannot take part in the most fundamental activities that make our country "free."  Let me give a brief history lesson.

In the past, states have passed laws that required voters to pay for the privilege to vote.  These laws were largely considered "Jim Crow" laws,  enacted largely to keep the black population from having equal legal footing.  Through these poll taxes, states could say, "Everyone has the equal right to vote, it costs the same for everyone."  But while most whites could easily afford the tax, African Americans were significantly poorer, and had a much harder time doing so.  The poll taxes effectively barred a large population of blacks from being allowed to vote in their own governmental elections.

That's right.  States passed laws disallowing their own citizens from voting.  They took away the most basic freedom possible.  They were citizens, but without the ability to vote, how could they stand against their own government?  How could they make their voices heard? 

Fortunately, the Supreme Court disallowed this practice entirely in 1966.

And yet today, right now, as you are reading this, states like Wisconsin, Indiana, Texas, and more are enforcing laws nearly identical to those ruled unconstitutional nearly fifty years ago.  The Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, has signed legislation requiring a citizen present a photo ID before they will be allowed to vote.

Republican Governor Scott Walker
"What's so wrong with that?" you might ask. Surely it's important to verify a voter's identity before letting them vote.  Indeed, that's the rationalization that the Republicans have given.  Time and time again, they have insisted that voter fraud is a huge problem, and must be dealt with!  They've been crying "voter fraud!" since 2008, when it became possible that Obama might actually win the presidency.  But there is no problem with individual voter fraud.  Indiana has not been able to cite a single instance of voter fraud in its entire history.  Kansas has had more UFO sitings than it has had allegations of voter fraud.  No, my friends.  These laws have nothing to do with stopping nonexistent fraud.   They have everything to do with keeping undesirables from having a say in the government.

And we have to remember, government IDs cost money.  Money that for many people may be inconsequential.  What's thirty dollars?  But not everyone has that money, and those most likely to not have an ID (the poor and the elderly) have had no reason to obtain one.  After all, if they didn't drive, they didn't need one.  Until now.

Now, these states do have to comply with the letter of the law.  They can't require money in exchange for the ability to vote.  If a citizen asks for a free voter ID, they have to be given one.

But a recently surfaced internal memo from the Republicans shows that DMV employees were specifically instructed to not tell citizens that voter IDs could be had for free.

So by law, they are required to let people vote without paying a tax.  But they've built a situation where people are told that they need to pay.  The only way to be able to vote without paying a government fee is to specifically ask if you can vote for free.

It's obvious that the poor are being targeted by these laws.  After all, the poor have the most to lose if these Republican regimes stay in power.  Governor Walker and his counterparts in other states are afraid of the poor vote, and so they're stomping down on it as hard as they can.

If we needed any more proof of this blatant discrimination, then pay attention to this: after passing the voter ID law, Governor Walker began shutting down DMV offices in primarily Democratic areas.  At the same time, he began expanding the hours of DMVs in Republican-heavy areas.  In many of the poorer areas of the state, DMVs are now open only one or two days a week, and only for a couple hours a day.

This isn't just Wisconsin, folks.  Similar laws have been passed in Texas, Indiana, Kansas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee.  All Republican controlled, all with reason to fear the disenfranchised.

Jim Crow laws are back, but this time they're targeting anyone that the Republicans think might stand against them.


  1. The Republican leaders have never really been that racist - it's all poor people they want to oppress, not just the ones with dark skin.

  2. I wasn't trying to accuse them of racism, but it's basically the same thing. Denying your biggest potential enemy the ability to vote against you.