They Should Have Just Called It a Poll Tax

I’m grateful that a 3-judge panel just unanimously held that Texas’ Voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act. (See Ari Berman for background and Rick Hasen for analysis.)

But given this language of the decision (as cited by Berman), couldn’t they have simply called it a poll tax?

According to undisputed U.S. Census data, the poverty rate in Texas is 25.8% for Hispanics and 23.3% for African Americans, compared to just 8.8% for whites. This means that the burdens of obtaining [voter ID] will almost certainly fall more heavily on minorities, a concern well recognized by those who work in minority communities.

…Undisputed census data shows that in Texas, 13.1% of African Americans and 7.3% of Hispanics live in households without access to a motor vehicle, compared with only 3.8% of whites.

… while a 200 to 250 mile trip to and from a DPS [Department of Public Safety] office would be a heavy burden for any prospective voter, such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor. Poorer citizens, especially those working for hourly wages, will likely be less able to take time off work to travel to a DPS office—a problem exacerbated by the fact that wait times in DPS offices can be as long as three hours during busy months of the year. This concern is especially serious given that none of Texas’s DPS offices are open on weekends or past 6:00 PM, eliminating for many working people the option of obtaining an EIC [“election identification certificate”] on their own time. A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote. [my emphasis]

This is, for someone making minimum wage who would have to take a day off work, an $80 fee to vote, or 6% of an entire month’s wages. Even ignoring the problem with transportation (which involves additional costs), that is a significant burden for a working poor person, much less a senior living on a fixed income.

It’s a poll tax. It’s time to start calling poll taxes poll taxes again.

4 replies
  1. BSbafflesbrains says:

    In a factual world your point is quite right. We don’t seem to live in that world anymore.

  2. bmaz says:

    Interestingly, and I did not know this prior to talking to Hasen this morning, it is a special election law procedure that provided for the unique three judge panel specified to be constructed of two district judges (in this case, Collyer and Wilkens) and one circuit judge (in this case Tatel). The process, due to the hybrid construct and subject matter, then skips the normal circuit Court of Appeals level and automatically has a mandatory appeal to the Supreme Court.

  3. MadDog says:

    Just my personal opinion, but the ruling against the Texas “Rob The Vote” law seems to have given the DOJ a dose of the vapors.

    As a reliably red state for some time now, I can’t understand why the DOJ hasn’t figured out they’ve been chasing after the wrong Texas bullshit, and instead should have woken up to the fact that the Repugs have been far more interested in passing “Rob The Vote” laws in crucial swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

    Talk about taking your eye off the ball.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    In the civilized world, voting day is a paid national holiday, helping to ensure one’s ability to vote so that the right is assured of meaning.

    The US still pits that right against one’s obligation to feed oneself, to take care of one’s family. We still force the poor, the working and middle classes to run a gauntlet of administrative hurdles designed to curtail that right. We used to decry the Soviet Union’s East European satellites for such things, at least when we weren’t too busy tearing voting rights from our good neighbors in Latin America.

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