On voter ID laws and poll taxes.

Whenever some small sum of money is mentioned as a requirement to do something — participate in an event, say, or buy the teacher a present — you’ll often hear folks say some version of “It’s only $10/$20/$50. Everyone can afford that.”

And then my head explodes. Because no. Everyone can’t.

I’ve had times in my life when $50, or $20, or even $10 was so far beyond my means as to be laughable. Might as well make it a million! ‘Cause once you get past “nothing,” it’s all impossible.

Yet for me, those were just “times” — periods of difficulty that I had no reason to think would define my life. I have never wanted for food or sufficient clothing (though those hand-me-down boots I wore as a kid skirted the line) and moreover, if I had ever fallen into catastrophic need, there have always been people in my life who could have and would have saved me (and did). My poverty, which has at times been very real, has also been very relative.

There are a lot of folks out there for whom that’s just not the case. They make decisions every day about what they’re going to buy: Shoes for the kid? Or electricity for the apartment?

People who work every day, sometimes two or three jobs, and still have to go to the food pantry at the end of the month. Many born into poverty, raising children in poverty, and likely to die in poverty. The kind of folks who die because they couldn’t afford a doctor, and for whom communities hold bake sales in order to pay for the funeral. People for whom $10 more than nothing will always be the metaphorical equivalent of a million dollars.

And yet, call me crazy: I still think they have a right to vote.

Getting an official government ID costs money in this country (it shouldn’t, if you ask me, but it does) — and thus, if you cannot vote without a government-issued ID, and that ID costs money, ipso facto, you are being required to pay cash dollars in order to gain access to your Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

That is a poll tax.

I know that the US Attorney General agrees with me on this, and that he has all kinds of Constitutional law and precedent to back him up, but all I really need (frankly) is common sense — it’s just math, of the 1+1 = 2 variety.

And as we all know, poll taxes are designed to exclude a very particular kind of voter from participating in the democratic process.

According to the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center, a wildly disproportionate number of America’s poor are people of color (27.4% of blacks and 26.6% of Hispanics, vs. 9.9% of whites) and/or single-parent households (31.6% of single-mother households, vs. 15.8% of single-dads and 6.2% of two-parent homes) — and people of color tend to vote for Democrats. As do single moms.

But it goes beyond that, of course: The GOP doesn’t much like poor people of any stripe, and like most of us, Republican big wigs assume that the higher the turnout, the more Democratic votes cast (research suggesting that this isn’t always the case not withstanding).

Of course supporters of voter ID laws say that such legislation protects the republic from massive voter fraud.

But given that such fraud tends to be either rare or nonexistent, I think we’re given a much better glimpse into the GOP’s motivation by such people as the Pennsylvania Republican who recently said the following about his own state’s law: “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania — done,” and his Florida counterpart who (it emerged just today) has accused his party of advancing a voter ID agenda as a means of “keeping blacks from voting.”

Voter ID laws are a poll tax, plain and simple, designed to keep a certain class of voter from voting.

The kind of voter for whom $10 might as well be a million.

For a list of states that require voter ID, click here.



  1. Another issue. In some areas of the country, people live 50-100 miles away from the closest place to get a drivers license. They don’t drive or own a car. How are they supposed to get to the location (which costs more money, at best…and may be impossible, at worst) in order to pay for ID in order to vote? This is especially true in rural areas.

    • socioprof

       /  July 27, 2012

      In addition, they need documents–that they must pay for–in order to get the types of photo id that certain states want to require. The offices that administer these documents may also be 50-100 miles away and have nonstandard and confusing hours. Earlier in the year, there was a story on NPR that discussed a rural county that had two vital records offices. IIRC, neither office was opened when the other was, both were closed more than they were open, neither was open for a full business day, neither had extended hours, neither had weekend hours, it was difficult finding out when either would be open…

      This disenfranchesment, when compounded with felon disenfranchisement, and more localized suppression tactics infuriate me.

    • Thisthisthisthis.

  2. baiskeli

     /  July 27, 2012

    Thank you for this. The discussion over at TNC’s went a bit off the rails and I opted out, but for me Voter ID laws are a blatant appeal to racial resentment. A recent study shows that one’s attitude toward African Americans is a pretty good indicator for ones support for Voter ID laws.


    A new National Agenda Opinion Poll by the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication reveals support for voter identification laws is strongest among Americans who harbor negative sentiments toward African Americans.

    The survey reveals strong partisan and ideological divisions on racial resentment. Republicans and conservatives have the highest “racial resentment” scores, and Democrats and liberals have the lowest; Independents and moderates are in the middle. In addition, Democrats and liberals are least supportive of voter ID laws, whereas Republicans and conservatives are most supportive. The link between “racial resentment” and support for such laws persists even after controlling for the effects of partisanship, ideology, and a range of demographic variables.

    Voter ID laws, a solution in search of a problem (unless you define the problem as too many brown people exercising their Constitutional Right to Vote)

    • (Actually, this entire thing is kind of in response to one comment I saw over there when I was scrolling through late last night. Don’t ever tell me that “$50 isn’t that much” or however it was put. Just – don’t).

      • Exactly. I was tempted to suggest to Pete that if $50 isn’t that much, then he should buy me dinner.

  3. In full agreement with you, on all points. I’ve had times I couldn’t afford a soda, and if I’d been blocked from voting because I couldn’t pay some fee…grrrr.

  4. snailspace

     /  July 27, 2012

    Don’t forget, beyond the money, the burden of a) obtaining the ID at all (overcrowded, inconvenient DMVs, especially those that have closed branches in poor or rural areas and b) securing the proofs of identity necessary for a state-issued DMV.

    My husband and I are well papered – we have cars, a lease, utilities, passports, Social Security Cards, birth certificates. But still, I’ve run into problems proving residence to the DMV when I moved into his apartment and had no lease or utility bills in my name (we eventually had to transfer cable and garbage to my name so I could re-register my car and get a new license in the appropriate state). And he’s run into problems when, because he was born in Colombia and has a (very official, colorful, and notarized!) birth certificate from Bogota, a different DMV would not accept his SS card, naturalization paperwork, US passport, or our marriage certificate as sufficient proof of his identity as a resident US citizen. But as soon as he got a gas and electric bill? *That* was good enough.

    Now imagine if you were home-birthed. Or your parents lost your SS card. Or you don’t drive. Or have never been out of the country. Or are homeless. Or everything was lost in a fire. Or someone stole your identity. None of these things wipe out your citizenship; they should not negate your right to vote.

    • Cthulhu

       /  July 28, 2012

      Evidently, it’s easier to obtain guns and heaps of ammunition than it is to get the necessary documents to vote. I fear thats not an accident.

  5. Electronic_Neko

     /  July 27, 2012

    Yes. Drives me crazy to hear people say, “well, it’s not that much money, it’s not a big deal.” Voting is your right and your duty as a citizen. You shouldn’t have to pay to do it. We should be trying to engage more people, not throw up barriers to voting.

    In addition to the groups you mentioned, you know who else probably votes for Democrats and might not be able to afford the fees to obtain an acceptable ID? Young people. A lot of young people work entry level jobs that don’t pay well. And the bad economy means that a lot of places are not giving pay increases, and that workers might be unwilling to risk trying for a job that pays more.

    I have a decent job at a small law firm. I also own a condo. I haven’t gotten a raise for two years, property taxes have gone up and my mortage paymnent increased a bit, and my condo association has been doing a lot of assessments for renovations. There’s been times recently where I can pay my bills and buy food and that’s it. So I’m better off by far than someone living in poverty, but there have been times recently where would have been equally impossible for me to pay fees to get documents or to get an ID.

    I pay attention to politics, and I don’t think I could stand not to vote. So I would probably swallow my pride in that situation, because there are people I could borrow money from. But I can easily imagine there are other young people who are less engaged and wouldn’t bother to do that or who don’t have anyone they could ask for money – so they just wouldn’t vote.

  6. Bob Jones' Neighbor

     /  July 27, 2012

    Republican legislators in Pennsylvania, which recently passed a voter ID law, are are pretty much bragging that the whole point of these voter ID laws is to prevent likely Democratic voters from casting a ballot. Bragging, mind you!

  7. This is not, on the surface, a racial issue. There are white, asian, latino and all sorts of poor people, across the line. I, for one, am considered lower class because we, as a white family of four, make less than poverty level income on disability. My husband and I are both disabled, cannot drive, and do not have drivers licenses. I can physically drive but, because of an accident I was subjected (I was rear-ended at a stop light) to ten years ago, cannot afford the 400 dollars for the SR22 they require. I have an expired state ID and have to pay the 20 dollars to renew. Before the accident, I drove for a living.

    My husband and I vote by mail in ballots because the nearest polling place is thirteen miles from us, there is no bus here and I cannot walk that far. Noone IDs us so why do people need IDs?


    Dead people voting, children voting…. You name it. It’s bad enough that the rich are the ones voted upon in each election but to cheat the system even further by denying people their rightful voice just because they are poor and can’t get an ID? Preposterous.

    And people wonder why this country is going to hell in a hand-basket… Put a poor person in Washington and give them a budget they have to stick to and I bet you’d get some real savings going on. I am raising two teen boys on less than 1500 a month with my rent an atrocious 900 a month, electricity over 300 a month because of medical equipment, 60 a month for dr appts, medicine costs of 100 and food expenses. Without food stamps or anything from the gvmnt except Medicare and I STILL have to pay for additional insurance to cover what Medicare doesn’t. There are months, like this one, when the food doesn’t quite stretch far enough and we end up eating Ramen for a week. Try explaining that to a 9 and 12 yo. Yet the bills still get paid, somehow. 20 dollars isn’t a lot but I could feed a family of four for three days. THAT’S more important than a damned ID.

    • baiskeli

       /  July 27, 2012

      I think it is both a class and a race issue and there is a lot of overlap.

      The fact is the GOP is pushing Voter ID laws with the express purpose of affecting elections in their favor by suppressing voter turnout. It is a combination of race and class, race, because most African Americans vote Democratic, and class, because quite a few working class and poor whites vote Democratic (this is very regional).

      If it was purely class based and if class irrespetive of race was a pretty good indicator, you’d see the GOP pushing for Voter ID laws in poor white areas, i.e. West Virginia. But that would be bad strategy. West Virginia, while overwhelmingly white, has always been close in the Presidential Elections. There is no clear strategy that the GOP can come up with because their tactics would be like a shotgun, likely to suppress both Democratic and Republican votes.

      In states where there is a clear Demographic breakdown, it is relatively easy for them to user Voter ID laws to target likely Democratic voters (blacks, minorities, the poor (of all races), recent immigrants, college students).

      In Massachusetts, the state is heavily Democratic, therefore there has been no real push. However, in a recent local election near here, there is a case that the ACLU took up where Republican operatives were challenging anyone who looked Hispanic/Latino (requesting photo id) at the polls.

      What we’re seeing is the GOP pushing for these laws in heavily contested States/areas. Like what happened with voter purging in Florida in 2000, this is about winning elections, and in the GOP playbook, the way to win is not to present a better argument/choice, it is to suppress (by any means you can get away with) the votes of the other side.

      If you want to see where the GOP is likely to push Voter ID laws look at States that were closely contested in the 2008 Presidential Elections and that went Democrat (i.e. Pennsylvania, California, Wisconsin). There are exceptions (i.e. Arizona).

      • ExpatJK

         /  July 27, 2012

        Wait, CA?? We’ve been a solid dem state for a while & absentee voting is frequent. Have we really passed a voter ID law recently? We have a dem governor as well, so I’m surprised. Horrible if we did…..

    • baiskeli

       /  July 27, 2012

      This is not, on the surface, a racial issue.

      I posted a long reply to you without really addressing this.

      You are right, the reason that Voter ID laws target African Americans disproportionately is largely due to class. AA’s tend to be poorer on the aggregate than whites, Voter ID laws place an undue burden on the poor/elderly (essentially, those least able to afford it). That is why the whole

      50$ is not much

      argument does not wash.

      I think why the issue is doubly galling is that very recently within our own history we’ve had African Americans denied the vote (I’m pretty sure that some of the people who are going to be affected are the same people who marched and fought for voting rights in the 60s).

  8. socioprof

     /  July 27, 2012

    Or, what if you are someone who is living in poverty and despite how engaged you are, everyone in your social circle is in the same finanical boat so you can’t ask them for a loan to get id. Alternately, you have someone you can borrow money from, but your kids need new shoes or they have a backpack that is falling apart or are begging to go on the cool field trip that everyone else at school is going on or you know that Christmas is right around the corner? Do you borrow money to vote or to care for and even indulge your kids a little? It’s hard to explain to your kid that they are wearing worn out shoes that are causing them to be ridiculed at school so that you can exercise a hard-earned right.

    What if you are someone living in poverty and need to procure id? How do you do it? You certainly aren’t going to take a day’s pay off to go to the DMV are you? If you do have a day off, are you going to cash in a babysitting chit so you don’t have to deal with little kids and the soul-sucking nature of the DMV and risk not having that resource in your back pocket for a day when you have to go to work or school or an interview? Are you going to pay for a babysitter instead?

    Imagine that you work a traditional schedule during the week. Can’t you go after work? Sure, as long as you get off work in enough time to get the id you need and pick the kids up from day/after-school care before six and before fees for late pick-ups incur. Ok, so, you can just go to the DMV on the weekend (assuming it is open, of course). Easy peasy, right? Sure, as long as 1. you don’t use public transportation and live in a neighborhood with limited to no weekend public transportation like many poor Chicagoans and 2. the DMV is reasonably accessible via public trans.

    The levels of unquestioned privilege, inequality, and callousness that this debate (to speak nothing of the practice) that this reveals is remarkable.

    • Everything you said. Every last word.

      And throw in the fact that for a lot of folks that “taking a day off work” thing would lead to a “being fired” thing.

    • baiskeli

       /  July 27, 2012


    • Electronic_Neko

       /  July 27, 2012

      Nailed it

  9. Another part of the voter ID thing that bugs me is the implication that the major source of election fraud is voter fraud. It takes about 5 seconds to figure out why that is a bunch of bull … the number of people you’d have to sneak in to swing an election of any size is so large that you might as well be holding up a giant sign reading “WE ARE STEALING THIS ELECTION.” (Older Chicago blah blah – voter fraud wasn’t the big problem there, was it? It was the rigged system that looked the other way when voter fraud occurred.)

    Obama carried Indiana by a little under 30,000 votes in 2008. Thirty thousand people. How on earth are you going to find 30,000 people to commit a felony for you? Are you going to find 300 people to do it 100 times each? They’ll have to do it in separate counties, because there’s no way you can vote more than, say, twice on Election Day – the lines are too long – so you’d have to do it through early voting, which happens at county courthouses here IIRC. (There are two counties that are exceptions, but I don’t remember the details for how they do early voting.) Oh, btw, there are 92 counties in Indiana, so even if you try to do this 100 times each, you’re going to have to find a friendly county clerk or election person, and then voter fraud isn’t the issue any more, is it?

    What would be easier? To have someone on the county board of elections to mess up the tallying. You can change tens, hundreds, of even thousands of votes at a time. I feel pretty comfortable that everyone who votes in my precinct is legally allowed to do so, based on their names being in our poll book. (We do have a voter ID law, so that does complicate this part a little.) However, once we turn in our precinct results to the county, they might as well go into a black hole. I have no idea what happens from there. The Secretary of State’s office hasn’t published precinct-by-precinct results since 2006 … for all I know, someone just crosses off our numbers and ignores them. (Highly unlikely, though: we’re an extremely red precinct. I’m sure our results get counted very carefully every year.)

    You can also have someone mess with the voting machines … just put in a random number generator that flips, say, 1 in every 50 votes from their candidate to yours. Not on the screen, but when the ballot is recorded. (Individual receipts wouldn’t show this, in case you were wondering. One of the benefits to being a web application developer is that I have all kinds of insight as to what happens in a process like this … there isn’t much of a difference between web apps and desktop apps in this case. You can do some really nasty things if you have no conscience.) No suspicious undervote, split ballots aren’t uncommon, and yet you still get a 4-point swing (-2 from them, +2 for you).

    But see, that would involve oversight of the people making the rules, and they don’t want that. So instead, we get voter ID laws. ugh. I hope that 20 years from now, people are writing about voter ID laws the same way we write about drinking fountains for “colored people”. (Hopefully it will be written in a series entitled “The Collapse of the Modern Republican Party: Where It All Went Wrong”.)

  10. Darth Thulhu

     /  July 27, 2012


    Thank you so much for this. $50 and a day off work are Real. Frakking. Money. Laws that mandate this bull without the State paying for it (including recompensed time off work) are poll taxes.

  11. If you want to stuff a ballot box, there are so many easier ways to do it than to send people in to vote who are not eligible. With the proliferation of electronic voting machines, a little low-tech hacking and you can later results to your heart’s content. Absentee ballots can be had easily enough and sent in in large numbers for people who have registered but never vote. A little under-the-table graft and every fifth paper vote gets tallied in the wrong column.

    This isn’t really about disenfranchisement alone, although that’s the catalyst. The Republicans are trying to take advantage of the Democratic lethargy that struck in 2010 to grease the wheels wherever they can, and they are using voter ID laws as a misdirection to keep people from focusing on the true corruption during elections. If they can knock a whole lot of Democratic voters off the rolls, great, but while everyone is howling about these laws, the true depravity and election irregularity is going on in quiet corners. We don’t just have to tear down these execrable laws; we then have to flood the polls and vote out the people who have been gaming the system.

  12. wearyvoter

     /  July 29, 2012

    I just ran through what I’d need to do if I had to reconstruct all of my paperwork here in Illinois if I lost my DL, my birth certificate, and my marriage certificate. Copy of marriage certificate (because the name on my birth cert does not match my current last name): $25.00–$15.00 to the county where the license was issued; $10.00 fee to the company they use for online processing. Copy of birth certificate (to the county where I was born but not in Illinois): $25.00–same as above. If my passport is still available, I’d have to scan that and include it as part of the form for obtaining that information. Add FedEx two-day to that, and you’re looking at shelling at least $100.00, preferably online, via credit card for rush delivery. All of this hoorah is why a lot of neocons objected to the Real ID laws.