Racist “Poll Taxes” Again: Shades of Jim Crow

The U.S. has numerous anti-democratic institutions like our Supreme Court, Senate, and electoral college. One would think that the wealthy and well-off whites–who mostly run our political and economic institutions–would find them skewed more than enough in their direction without all the new anti-voting legislation. Numerous Republican state legislatures’ recent attempts and successes in making voting more difficult intentionally extend this well-off-whites’ control.

A savvy columnist at the Washington Post, Eugene Robinson, has done an interesting detailed analysis (“The GOP’s crime against voters”) of these attempts at voter suppression:

The Republican-led crusade for voter ID laws has been revealed as a cynical ploy to disenfranchise as many likely Democratic voters as possible, with poor people and minorities the main targets. . . . Late last month, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Turzai, was addressing a meeting of the Republican State Committee. . . . . he mentioned the new law forcing voters to show a photo ID at the polls. Said Turzai, with more than a hint of triumph: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done.”

The number of people affected in this state is quite large, for some 758,939 registered voters there right now

do not have the most easily obtained and widely used photo ID, a state driver’s license. That’s an incredible 9.2 percent of the registered electorate. Most of the voters without driver’s licenses live in urban areas — which just happen to be places where poor people and minorities tend to live. More than 185,000 of these voters without licenses, about one-fourth of the total, live in Philadelphia — which just happens to be a Democratic stronghold where African Americans are a plurality.

If this significantly reduces the vote of modest income and working class people, especially people of color, then President Obama may have a difficult time winning the state, especially given current estimates of a close race there.

Significantly too, the new law about IDs in Pennsylvania, as in some other states, officially tries to prevent voter fraud from use of false IDs, yet no one has found actual evidence of that kind of voter fraud.

Attorney general Holder just today at the NAACP convention in Houston put this comment into his talk there, about the new voter ID law in Texas:

Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not. . . . Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.

I grew up under such poll taxes in Texas, where they were designed to keep black voters from voting. We need to bring back some difficult memories of our racist voting history and openly racist political system for public discussion today. The white racial framing today intentionally ignores this relatively recent racist history of keeping voters of color out of the electoral system. Are we moving backwards today on these matters?


  1. cordoba blue

    This is basically saying you need a driver’s license to vote. Which in unconstitutional. I can understand wanting a photo ID, but what’s wrong with a student ID? There’s been stricter security on highschool and college campuses, due to internal terrorism, so student ID’s are pretty reliable. It just doesn’t make sense that people need to drive ( and that usually means own a car) to be able to vote.

    • bfsolgr

      The Voter identification laws do not require a “drivers License” to vote. They do however; require a state issued identification, which can be driver’s license, or a Student ID. Persons who do not have a driver’s license can obtain a state identification for a nominal fee, in most states that is around $10.00. If a person cannot afford the fee, the state will provide, free of charge, the ID.
      There is a lot of misinformation being, intentionally, spread concerning the voter ID laws strictly for political reasons. Identification is required in all aspect of our daily lives. Therefore to say that it is unreasonable , discriminatory or places a undo burden on a person who is about to cast a ballot to verify they are who they present themselves to be is does not pass the common sense test.

      • Joe Author

        Actually, these laws are mostly created by Republicans to keep mostly Democratically inclined voters from voting. That is the main or only reason they have been pressed, almost exclusively, by Republican legislators. And you are wrong about the burden. If you are a poor or older voter (esp. without good transportation) in my home state of Texas, in many counties, there is no place in the county to get the IDs or you have to travel long distances. The issue is not identification as such but requirements that exclude numerous normal kinds of identification, including in many areas the photo IDs of employees and students. Or medical cards. Or tax receipts. Since voters of color are greatly affected by these laws, they are indeed often institutionally racist laws repeating the old poll taxes I had to pay long ago in Texas. And they were there then to keep voters of color from the polls.

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