Georgia institutes new poll tax

The 24th amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:

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.

So what the hell does the state of Georgia think it’s doing?

In 1966, the Supreme Court held that the poll tax was unconstitutional. Nearly 40 years later, Georgia is still charging people to vote, this time with a new voter ID law that requires many people without driver’s licenses – a group that is disproportionately poor, black and elderly – to pay $20 or more for a state ID card. Georgia went ahead with this even though there is not a single place in the entire city of Atlanta where the cards are sold. The law is a national disgrace.

Until recently, Georgia, like most states, accepted many forms of identification at the polls. But starting this month, it is accepting only government-issued photo ID’s. People with driver’s licenses are fine. But many people without them have to buy a state ID card to vote, at a cost of $20 for a five-year card or $35 for 10 years. The cards are sold in 58 locations, in a state with 159 counties. It is outrageous that Atlanta does not have a single location. (The state says it plans to open one soon.) But the burden is also great on people in rural parts of the state.

The Republicans who pushed the law through, and Gov. Sonny Perdue, also a Republican, who signed it, say that it is intended to prevent fraud. But it seems clear that it is about keeping certain people away from the polls, for political advantage. The vast majority of fraud complaints in Georgia, according to its secretary of state, Cathy Cox, involve absentee ballots, which are unaffected by the new law. Ms. Cox says she is unaware of a single documented case in recent years of fraud through impersonation of a voter at the polls.

Citizens who swear they are indigent are exempt from the fee. But since the law does not define who is indigent, many people may be reluctant to swear and risk a criminal penalty. More important, the 24th Amendment, which outlawed poll taxes in federal elections, and the Supreme Court’s decision striking down state poll taxes applied to all Americans, not just to the indigent. A Georgian who votes only in presidential elections, and buys a five-year card to do so, would be paying $10 per election. That is no doubt more than many people on fixed incomes, who struggle to get by but are not legally indigent, are willing to pay to vote. — New York Times

You heard right. Now you have to pay to vote in Georgia. This is more than a national disgrace; it’s unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Federal Election Reform is pushing for free voter ID cards.

Critics suggested that having to acquire the ID cards in order to vote could be an obstacle for minorities, the poor and older Americans and might intimidate some people.

“We believe such a requirement would constitute nothing less than a 21st century poll tax,’ said a letter from Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and John Lewis, D-Ga. Poll taxes were once used in some states to prevent black citizens from voting.

Former President Carter, a co-chair of the commission, said he was hesitant about the free photo ID proposal at first, but laws passed in some states like Georgia convinced him that a national approach was a better idea. Republican lawmakers in Georgia pushed through legislation that requires a new voter identification card that costs $20 for five years.

“Some states have passed abominable laws that are a disgrace to democracy,’ Carter said.

The commission proposed that voters who don’t have the card could cast a provisional ballot and produce the photo ID later. States also would have to promote the photo ID card aggressively.

The commission recommended improved voter registration lists, requiring a verifiable paper trail for electronic voting machines and rotating regional primaries, while warning that “Americans are losing confidence in elections.’ — Associated Press

Don’t we already have voter registration cards? Put a picture on them and be done with it. Or do what Oregon does, and do all voting by mail.

Security expert Bruce Schneier points out that the “ID solves a problem that doesn’t exist.’ There is no known voter fraud being committed by people actually going to the polls. The vast majority of known voter fraud involves absentee ballots. Oh, and those Diebold election machines.

Voting should neither be overly complex nor should it be vulnerable to fraud and abuse. It’s easy enough to make it both simple and secure, but that apparently doesn’t get headlines.