Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders (I), Vermont
Voter suppression is a disturbing element of the 2012 election. Several states are pushing a photo ID requirement for the November election, with laws backed by conservative politicians. Rachel Maddow states in the above video that as many as 21 million Americans will be affected by these laws, as they target the elderly, poor, and so-called minority voters that could find obtaining an ID expensive and difficult.
The act of imposing restrictions on voting traces back to the founding of the electoral system. During the Civil Rights movement in the 1940s and 50s, different state governments attempted to discourage African-Americans from voting, using the means of poll taxes and literary tests. Initially, governments could get away with very obvious discrimination. In the 1860s, New York voting laws stated that blacks could cast a ballot only if they owned $250 of property, while the same property qualification did not apply to white voters. As the civil rights movement gained momentum, voter suppression techniques became less explicitly “anti-black vote”, and tried to frame themselves as applying to all voters, no matter the race. The use of the poll tax effectively discouraged blacks and the poor from voting, because the cost was a much greater burden.
The prevalent use of poll taxing, defined by the U.S. History website as “one imposed equally on all adults at the time of voting and not affected by property ownership or income”, shines a light on the current political scene. Poll taxing is precisely what states are trying to do to voters today, supporting their argument with denouncements of voter fraud and talk of more fair and balanced elections. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Democrats say there is little evidence of voter fraud and that the laws are racially motivated, citing research showing that roughly 25% of African-Americans lack photo IDs, compared with 11% of all Americans” (WSJ, 9/9/12). While the voter ID law does not explicitly state an anti-minority, anti-elderly, or anti-poor bias, analogous to its use in the 1950s, it directly affects those populations come Election Day. In the case Texas v. Holder in August of this year, the court ruled, “[The] evidence conclusively shows that the implicit costs of obtaining [Texas state law] SB 14-qualifying ID will fall most heavily on the poor and that a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty. We therefore conclude that SB 14 is likely to lead to “retrogression in the position of racial minorities with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.”” [Texas v. Holder, 8/30/12]. Obtaining a license or government ID costs money. In Pennsylvania, a state that is trying to pass the voter ID law, the cost of an initial permit and 4-year license is $34.50, and the renewal cost every four years is $29.50. For an ID card, the cost is $13.50 (PADMV). This is not even taking into account the cost of transportation to the DMV and the wages that would be lost by potentially having to miss work to make the DMV hours. More than 758,000 registered voters in the swing state of Pennsylvania do not have a photo I.D.—a whopping 9.2% of the voting population in the state, without which the election could go an entirely different direction.
The institution of a voter ID law in any state should be considered unconstitutional, based on the 24th Amendment, which prohibits poll taxes from preventing people from voting in a federal election. A voter ID law is a modern-day poll tax that is being utilized by republican politicians to discourage statistically Democratic-leaning voters from turning out to the polls. This is completely inappropriate in our political system, and all attempts at putting up barriers to the right of voter expression must be seriously investigated and torn down. Our democracy is based upon the ability to participate, and without this freedom, there is no fairness.