Eric Holder Speaks the Truth: Voter ID Laws = Poll TaxesPosted: July 10, 2012
Today Eric Holder spoke to the annual NAACP convention in Houston, TX, and as he was discussing the Texas voter ID law, which the Justice Department believes is illegal, he “deviated from his prepared remarks,” and said something I have long wanted him to say:
“Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not,” Holder said, referring specifically to the voter ID law passed in Texas. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.”
That last line was not part of Holder’s prepared remarks released to the press.
Holder has been very critical of voter ID laws in the past, but this appears to be the first time he’s gone as far as to compare them to the Jim Crow-era effort to purposefully disenfranchise African-Americans.
I wasn’t able to find video of Holder’s speech on Youtube, but you can watch it at the above link to Talking Points Memo.
According to Huffington Post, Holder added:
“I don’t know what will happen as this case moves forward, but I can assure you that the Justice Department’s efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive,” the attorney general said.
Holder said the arc of American history has always moved toward expanding the electorate and that “we will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress.”
“I will not allow that to happen,” he added.
In 1962, the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution made poll taxes unconstitutional in federal elections. Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi still had the poll tax requirement at that time.
However, it was not until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6–3 in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) that poll taxes for state elections were declared unconstitutional because they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Poll taxes were used in conjunction with literacy tests and other means–including violence–to prevent African Americans from voting beginning with Reconstruction and continuing until the SCOTUS decision in 1966.
I can still recall the days when poll taxes, literacy tests, and other means of disenfranchisement were used in Southern states. Even the secret ballot was originally designed to prevent illiterate voters from getting help to fill out their ballots.
Now the Republican Party, along with enablers like ALEC, are trying to return us to the ugliness of deliberate voter disenfranchisment. Republicans should be ashamed for trying to effectively reinstate poll taxes by forcing people to pay for an ID as a condition of voting. This time, in addition to African Americans, the targets are students, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.
Mitt Romney will be speaking to the NAACP convention tomorrow. Will he address the voter ID issue? I doubt it, but if he had the guts this could be an opportunity for him to pick up some votes. Ben Jealous told the NYT that many African American voters are disappointed in President Obama.
“Romney could do much better than John McCain,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., the 103-year-old group Mr. Romney plans to address Wednesday at its annual convention in Houston….
“If he’s going to pick up more support in the black community,” Mr. Jealous said, “he has to send a message that he’s prepared to lead on issues that we care about.”
Topping the list is a wave of voter identification laws that Democrats say will suppress minority participation in November. “We are living through the greatest wave of legislative assaults on voting rights in more than a century,” Mr. Jealous said Monday in his opening speech at the convention. “In the past year, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow.”
Nearly a dozen states have passed strict voter ID laws in the last two years largely with the support of Republican lawmakers, who say that they are needed to prevent fraud. Democrats argue that the laws are really meant to suppress turnout by poor and minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic and who disproportionately lack government-issued identification.
It’s highly unlikely that Romney will address the voter ID issue, but stranger things have happened.
In any case, I’m glad that Holder has finally spoken the truth about the motives behind these laws and called them what they are–deliberate attempts to reinstate poll taxes. And this time, it’s not just in the South. We cannot allow the Republicans to get away with this outrage.