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.