If You’re Poor and You Live in Texas, Your Right to Vote Has Been Taken Away

Last week, I posted two articles about the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, clearing a path for the ongoing Republican effort to disenfranchise millions of Americans with Voter ID laws. And so, predictably, conservative trolls filled my email inbox with their usual boilerplate invective, racism and ignorance. One particular email stood out as especially egregious:


..you have to show an I.D. to do just about anything these days – you can show an I.D. to vote .. personally, I think you should have to pass a civics test.. too many people are just too dumb to vote!

Gary H.

Tampa, FL

So not only does Gary support a “civics test,” but he believes uneducated people shouldn’t be allowed to participate in the democratic process. “Too many people are just too dumb to vote,” he wrote.

Too dumb to vote? Gary’s subject line was “Jim Crowe.” I’m not making that up. Gary misspelled Jim Crow. Yeah, I don’t think Gary would do so well on his own civics test. (By the way, here’s a literacy test that was administered in Louisiana before the Voting Rights Act. It’s not easy.)

In addition to taking a test to prove civics mastery or literacy in order to exercise the right to vote, Gary also wrote in support of the newest Jim Crow concept to emerge from the white, wealthy, conservative establishment: the poll tax.

It’s not called a poll tax any more, naturally. That’d expose the Republican Party’s motives. Now it’s simply called Voter ID.

The 24th Amendment to the Constitution:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The poll tax, and by extension Voter ID, is absolutely unconstitutional.

Let’s take a look at the Texas Voter ID law (poll tax), since the attorney general there zealously enacted his state’s Voter ID law before the ink was dry on the Shelby County v Holder decision.

In order to vote, citizens of Texas will have to present a photo ID or else they won’t be able to vote. The ID has to be one of the following:

-Texas driver license—unexpired or expired less than 60 days

-Texas identification card—unexpired or expired less than 60 days

-Texas concealed handgun license—unexpired or expired less than 60 days

-U.S. passport—unexpired or expired less than 60 days

-U.S. military identification with photo

-U.S. citizenship certificate with photo

If you don’t have one of these forms of identification, you’ll have to apply for an Election Identification Certificate (EIC). But in order to acquire an EIC, you have to present your proof of citizenship and a second form of identification. Yes, that’s right, you’ll need to get an ID in order to get an ID — one of many reasons why this law is so completely ridiculous. And all of this on top of the normal voter registration process (which only requires a Social Security Number).

But this is where the serious issue of a poll tax enters into the process.

Any of the above forms of identification will literally cost money to attain, and now you must attain an ID in order to vote. Therefore a Republican state law demands that you pay to vote.

First, you have to appear in person at a Texas driver’s license center, known as the TxDPS (Texas Department of Public Safety), to get either a driver’s license, a state ID or an EIC.

If you work, you’ll have to take time off, so you’ll incur lost wages. That’s a poll tax. You’ll have to travel to the TxDPS office somehow, and since you don’t have a driver’s license already, you’ll have to pay a fee to take the bus or a cab. That’s a poll tax. If you get a ride from a friend, the cost of the gas? Poll tax. Let’s say you’re like many of us and you’ve lost your birth certificate, which is required for getting a either a driver’s license, a Texas identification card, a passport or an EIC. It’ll cost you $22 to order a new copy in Texas. That’s a poll tax. Any of these forms of identification will cost you money. Hell, even in the rootin-tootin-shoot-em-up-cowboy state of Texas, a concealed handgun license costs $140. That’s a poll tax.

Worse yet, the Houston Press reported that 70 counties in Texas don’t have TxDPS offices. If you live in one of those counties, and you choose to get a driver’s license, a state ID or an EIC, your time away from work and your commute will take even longer. That’s a higher poll tax than counties with a TxDPS office.

Voting in Texas now costs money. Even if it was just a dollar, that’s a poll tax.

Who will this impact the most?

If you’re poor or broke, you’ve been disenfranchised by the Republican Party.

If you have to choose between feeding your children for one night or spending that money on the complicated and relatively expensive Voter ID process, you’ve been disenfranchised by the Republican Party.

If you’re homeless, you’ve been disenfranchised by the Republican Party.

If you have no means of transportation, you’ve been disenfranchised by the Republican Party.

If you don’t own a computer and are therefore unaware of the new Voter ID law, you’ve been disenfranchised by the Republican Party.

Voting must remain free, without exception. But that’s no longer the case in a growing number of states. Thanks to these laws, and enabled by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, voting has been made the exclusive purview of people who can afford it. It’s no longer a universal right of all adult Americans. Why? Because everyone who falls into the above categories generally vote for Democratic candidate, and so the Republican government of states like Texas are actively disenfranchising them. A five judge panel agreed that it discriminated against minorities and the poor, and blocked the Texas Voter ID law accordingly. The enforcement of that ruling has been erased.

Again, they’ll tell you that voter fraud is rampant enough to justify more government bureaucracy (which they claim to hate and distrust) to provide a second step in the voter registration process. Voter fraud isn’t rampant or even statistically real. As I and many others have reported over the last year, it’s statistically nonexistent. Even the Bush Justice Department conducted a five-year study and determined that cases of alleged fraud were actually honest mistakes: immigrants unfamiliar with the rules and so forth.

In Ohio, the Republican Secretary of State uncovered a possible 20 cases of voter fraud during the 2012 election out of 5.6 million votes cast. That’s 0.00035 percent of the vote. In Iowa, the Republican Secretary of State found a possible eight cases out of 1.5 million votes cast. That’s 0.00053 percent of the vote. In Wisconsin, possible fraud amounted to 0.00023 percent of the vote. But up to nine percent of voters will be disenfranchised by Voter ID laws. That’s like using a nuclear missile to kill a gnat — and then entirely missing the gnat because, it turns out, Voter IDs wouldn’t have prevented the possible fraud cases.

Thus, in the absence of fraud, what other explanation besides voter suppression and disenfranchisement can there be? Maybe ask Republicans Ken Emanuelson, Mike Turzai, Jim Greer and Paul Weyrich.

Fortunately, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-TX) has filed a lawsuit to block the law. Additionally, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which generally bans voter discrimination, could ostensibly be applied here. But how long will such an action take to resolve, since Veasey’s challenge, or a Section 2 challenge, could conceivably ascend all the way to the Supreme Court? And what happens then, given the conservative slant of the Shelby decision? The only near-term solution is, ironically, the vote. If enough voters break through these new poll tax barriers and switch the balance of power leftward, this could all be rolled back. That’s a tremendous “if,” especially in blood red states like Texas and Mississippi, but it’s absolutely worth the effort.

And by the way, it’s important to note that the poll tax flagrantly violates the 24th Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional.

Jim Crowe.


Bob Cesca is the managing editor for The Daily Banter, the editor of BobCesca.com, the host of the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast and a Huffington Post contributor.