Facing South

Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

Poll Tax Receipt.jpgIn 1898, when North Carolina Democrats seized control of the state legislature, one of their first steps was to pass an amendment to the state constitution requiring that voters pass a literacy test and pay a poll tax before they could vote.

Then campaigning on a platform of "white supremacy," Democrats insisted the Jim Crow laws -- which, thanks to a "lineage" exception, only applied to blacks -- were necessary to prevent "voter fraud."

But Republicans saw a more sinister agenda at work: According to an 1881 dispatch in The New York Times, written when Democrats first pushed the voting restrictions:

In this way [Democrats] expect to disenfranchise 40,000 Republican voters and make North Carolina a Democratic State for many years.

The impact of the voting restrictions was dramatic: Voting participation by African-American males, largely Republicans, plummeted across the South from 98 percent in 1885 to 10 percent in 1905, according to historian J. Morgan Kousser.

Today, voting rights advocates in North Carolina fear that history may be repeating itself. After winning control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, Republican lawmakers have made it their top legislative priority to pass new election restrictions that require voters to produce photo identification at the polls.

As Bob Hall of the elections watchdog group Democracy North Carolina argues:

Requiring a photo ID is really just a way to reduce the number of voters Republicans don't like. It's exactly what the Democrats did after 1898 ... We're suffering the legacy of that enforced disenfranchisement still today.

The True Cost of Voter ID

In 2005, a federal judge halted Georgia's new voter ID law [pdf] on the grounds that it amounted to a new poll tax, because of the costs and burdens it placed on voters. As U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy argued in his 123-page opinion:

The photo ID requirement is most likely to prevent Georgia's elderly, poor and African-American voters from voting. For those citizens, the character and magnitude of their injury -- the loss of their right to vote -- is undeniably demoralizing and extreme.

Similar cases from Indiana and other states have made their way to the Supreme Court, where -- under the leadership of Republican appointee Judge John Roberts -- the court has ruled that voter ID laws, while imposing added costs to the voter, are constitutional because the plaintiffs themselves failed to demonstrate they would not be able to get the IDs needed to vote.

But voting rights advocates argue the court's standard is much too narrow: Whatever the case of the individual plaintiffs, they say, millions of voting-age citizens lack any form of photo identification -- studies estimate up to 10 percent, which in North Carolina would amount to over 700,000 people -- and many of them would undoubtedly be prevented from voting if  restrictive voter ID laws were to pass.*

Republican advocates of voter ID wave off any notions that it poses a barrier to voters. As Rep. Ric Killian of Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, told the AP:

What's the harm in folks having to show identification to show they're a citizen? That's not too much to ask to participate in this great democracy.

But the costs quickly add up. First are the direct costs of purchasing the ID; in North Carolina, a first-time learner permit starts at $15. Don't drive? A U.S. passport card starts at $55.

But as Atiba Ellis of Howard University Law School documents [pdf] in a recent law review article, there are also many indirect costs: the money and time needed to secure documents for the ID, time lost from a job, travel expenses -- costs that grow more significant as you move down the economic ladder, disproportionately affecting the elderly, African-Americans, rural and low-income voters.

Due to this combination of direct and indirect costs, several studies (see here, here and here) have found that voter ID laws end up depressing voter turnout.

To lessen the burden to voters, some states have offered to supply free or subsidized IDs to voters who meet the right criteria. While this lowers some, although not all, of the barriers to the voter, it could cost millions of dollars to the state -- an unwelcome prospect in North Carolina, which currently faces a $3.5 billion budget deficit.

As Keesha Gaskins of the Minnesota League of Women Voters observed in the debate over voter ID laws in her state:

In America we do not permit charging fees to vote. That would be a "Poll Tax," and it's illegal. If we decide to require photo identification for all voters, the state or municipality creating the requirement must provide free photo identification for anyone who requests it, and the taxpayers will have to subsidize the cost. This will require either (1) making drivers' licenses and or photo identification free and pushing the cost to local taxpayers; or (2) creating a new bureaucracy to create voter identification cards, in which case Minnesota taxpayers will have to pay for the creation of an entirely new bureaucratic process.

Such costs to state government would be especially hard to justify given that a voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than experience voter impersonation at the polls -- the only alleged voting problem voter ID claims to solve.

But Ellis believes an even bigger issue is at stake: The very idea of voting as a right accessible to all.

Throwing costly and burdensome barriers in the way of voters not only violates that ideal, Ellis says; it also gives politicians dangerous latitude to pick and choose which voters get to participate in our democracy. Or as Ellis argues:

[A]pplying a voter registration regime which depends upon the socioeconomic status of the potential voter creates a dynamic where policy makers can choose what electorate they may wish to have or not wish to have.

Which is exactly what North Carolina Republicans said over 100 years ago.

* NOTE: This is the total estimated voting-age population of North Carolina; not all of these residents are eligible to vote, for various reasons.


People Referenced:


re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

North Carolina is always coming up with new ways to screw the public out of their hard earned money. Their repressive sales tax is one of the highest in the country and we continue to tax food which places a disproportionate burden on low income families and the elderly. The state is rifled with outright corruption(former Speaker Black sentenced to prison) and a constant stream of misuse of public funds which seem to just disappear in Raleigh. I am ashamed to tell people I live here and plan to remedy this as soon as possible.

So, no it does not come as any surprise that the Royals in the NC legislature have yet another screwing in mind for the people of North Carolina.

re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

Hypocrasy is nothing new in politics; you just have to look at the Federal tax bill "deal" where Republicans still yell about fiscal responcibility, yet are all too ready to keep running up the debt...

One thing the new crew in Ralleigh needs to understand though is that they will be under a microscope and they will be judged harshly for trying to disenfranchise anyone; whether through direct action or through "unintended consequences" makes no difference. If you work against the people, the people will work against you and your chair will not have time to get warm before you are thrown out of office like the last batch...

re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

Doesn't the Driver's License Bureau still issue a "driver's license" for ID purposes only? My mother got one about four years ago. Why compare the price of a learner's permit and a Passport Card. Because the people opposing the requirement of ID for voting wanted it to appear to be cost prohibitive. Living in a low income, with a large population of minority, county in NC, I have experienced that the money will be found if that want to vote. Either by being more frugal with their alcohol/drug money or funds from the organizations that want them to vote. If you disagree with me, come live in my county and see what I am talking about. ID is required for everything else you do, certainly voting is one of the most important things you can do.

re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

I don't know why they are bothering with picture ID laws. Over 90% of all voting machines in the entire country are easily hackable.

re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

Someantimalwareguy inadvertently makes a point. If you have to forgo eating or paying rent in order to save the money for a proper ID to vote, chances are, you will use the money to pay survive. Voting would be a low priority. Why should you have to choose whether or not to feed the children or vote? Also, I remember when I got my driver's license in NC three years ago, I had to first prove I had insurance. I had to change my insurance to a NC policy and have GEICO fax a copy to the driver's license bureau. So, if you can't afford to drive, what do you do? The thing that really irks me is that if this law were enacted and organizations sprung up to help the poor get photo IDs, they will be maligned and targeted by those who want to keep the poor disenfranchised. This is what the State website says you have to do to get a license:

To receive an original driver license in North Carolina, you must bring at least two acceptable forms of identification. At least one must reflect your full name, including your middle name. If both forms of identification have only a middle initial, and your birth certificate is not one of the forms of identification you are presenting, you must present certified documentation indicating the same. At least one form of identification must include your date of birth. You must complete and pass the written, sign, and vision tests. If you surrender a valid license from another state, the road test requirement is at the discretion of the Examiner. No driving skills test will be initiated after 4:00pm. Proof of residency and liability insurance on your car are required in addition to your Social Security card. If you are not eligible for a Social Security card, you must provide documentation issued by the United States Government indicating legal presence.

re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

Cost for a NC photo ID card: $10

Requirement for an ID card:
+ Proof of Residency;
+ Proof of Age and Identity;
+ Social Security card or documentation issued by the US Government indicating legal presence.


re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

In Indiana they instituted a free ID card to be used for voting purposes. This is distinct from the "Real ID" card with enhanced security features which you will supposedly need to enter a Fereral COurt House, cross the Boarder, ect. and comes with the onerous documentation requirements including. At the same time, Indiana shut down numerous license branches making it more difficult for rural residents and those without transportation to be able to obtain IDs. It was shown that a group of elderly Nuns were disenfranchised because they were born in Kentucky before birth certificates were required. It was, and still is, a complete outrage.

re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

this is not a big deal people IDs are not expensive anyone can get an ID even the bum on the corner on my street has an ID to get booze.

re: Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?

It's is a little appalling to see all the people here who seem to think that it is super easy for every person in the state to get an ID card. They say things like, "Even the bum on my street has an ID card" and think that should mean something to others. The point is that you obviously live in a different place than where the real problem is. There are North Carolinians who can not afford an ID card, there are people right this moment who do not have a penny to their name, and every day is a real struggle. It doesn't matter if it's only one person in the entire state (which it is surely hundreds of thousands of them), every person who pays taxes here should have the right to vote, with or without an ID......NO EXCEPTIONS! Read the damn story, let the words land deep inside of you if you are not completely frozen through from your own self-absorption. Lets not talk about the percentage of brown people who would be turned away from the polls.....I am sure the number would be staggering, and sobering. You mean to tell me that my military ID counts for nothing? My service to this country counts for nothing? It's not about the cost to the ones who can afford it and still oppose this new proposal. It's about the insistence on who does and does not have the right to vote. They say, "The guy with the photo ID has the right to vote.", and what that means by default, although never said aloud, is, "They guy who has no ID can not vote. It matters not what contributions you have made to this country." That's pretty anti-American, and unconstitutional to say the least!