21st-Century Poll Tax

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

21st-Century Poll Tax

If you want to know more about the state of the art for disenfranchising poor and minority voters, I commend to your attention a pair of opposing op-eds from the Washington Post.

First came David Becker's piece criticizing the Justice Department's approval of Georgia's new voter ID requirements; Becker claims that the new requirements will have what the Voting Rights Act calls a "retrogressive" effect on minority voters and thus did not qualify for Justice Department "preclearance." (Sorry for the jargon, but this stuff really does matter; the preclearance provisions are the ones up for reauthorization and which there is good reason to believe Judge Roberts would find unconstitutional).

Then came Frank B. Strickland and Anne W. Lewis with an opposing viewpoint.

(It's also worth looking at longtime Democratic Party lawyer Bob Bauer's take on the issue).

Becker's response to Strickland and Lewis came on Prof. Rick Hasen's election law listserv, where election law professors and practitioners hang out and talk shop. Becker points to the key problem with Republicans' claim that harsher voter ID rules are aimed at stopping fraud: at the same time that they're making it harder to vote at the polls, they're making it easier to vote absentee and exempting absentee ballots from the new ID requirements.

Making it more likely that eligible voters will be turned away at the polls, while making it as easy as possible for absentee votes to be counted: I wonder which party's voters that helps more?

Every time they try to make it harder for poor folks to vote, GOP politicians claim that they're trying to stop fraud. Intimidation and harrassment at polling places? Just trying to keep out the fraudsters. No same-day registration? Ditto. Gutting the Help America Vote Act? You guessed it. And voter ID is the newest, bestest tool for eliminating large numbers of mostly Democratic voters at one stroke of the pen. Read Becker's response; it's worth it.

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