Are new voter I.D. laws, like the one in Pennsylvania, an unconstitutional Poll Tax?

While I was commenting over at Debito’s about the standards we citizens of the 21st century carry around with us, about Equal Protection of the Law, it called to mind a development here in America. Recently, the Republican Party has been trying to disenfranchise potential Democratic voters by figuring out what forms of personal I.D. a Democrat is less likely to have. Then, if they control the state government—as so many states with big 2010 elections are now Republican—they have their bill-writing organization “ALEC” come up with a Voter I.D. proposal for that state.

The claim is that there is a rash of voter fraud that these bills are meant to address. But really, I see this as a pure political move to suppress the Democratic vote. Additionally, I think there are some elements of an insult towards Barack Obama. The Republicans who refer to this sudden epidemic of voter fraud are suggesting that the wildly huge turnout in 2008 (55% or so, which is high for America) was made up of fraud. And, so, therefore, there is no way that (in its most sinister incarnation) “that black guy” could have legitimately won the Presidency. They can’t say about the birth certificate without being laughed at. So they go to the next stage, and start insinuating things about whether 2008 was a legitimate election. (They seem to have no trouble with 2000 though, which most of us know was not a legitimate election, because no one knows who won Florida’s electors.)

I keep meaning to talk about a portrait that I saw making the internet rounds last month. It shows all the Presidents, with Barack Obama defiantly in the front—his foot on the Constitution. James Madison is there, bent over, seeming to ask: how can this be!

It looks like the product of a sore loser or a crybaby. But with a little bit extra effort put in.

If you see the whole picture, it isn’t clear that the originator is making a pure racial argument by any means. In fact, I think it’s a little bit of a mixed message. Likewise, I don’t think the Tea Party people were motivated by race, either. It seemed more the old Sore Loserism, and then, as a backdrop, the surprise that the nation isn’t run by a bunch of white men in periwigs anymore. But, instead, the head of government is black. So they dress up like (overweight) Founding Fathers for their protests, and paint these kinds of pictures.

You see, it isn’t about the forlorn James Madison, bemoaning the trampling of the Constitution. It’s that America changed in the 1960’s. It continues to change, and will change. And that actually is the way America is and–more importantly–has been.

When the Poll Tax was made unconstitutional in 1964, the Southern states did not support the amendment. They wanted to use fee payments and other tricks to keep black people away from the polls. This is so, even though they lost the Civil War 99 years before. Could it be that, inevitably, the people who promote this same sort of recidivist thinking, would dream up the idea of paying for a special Voter I.D., as though the rest of us forgot that the Twenty-Fourth amendment prohibits having to pay some sort of money as a condition of voting? Do they actually think it is constitutional, when suddenly that payment of money (or having to do some other act before registering) is one or two steps removed from the voting process?

I see how the people who are out to undermine the American republic go about it: they make you re-fight the fights that have already been fought. The ones they lost. (I am going through that right now with a big corporation that doesn’t believe in Title VII as it’s been enacted since 1991.)

Voter I.D. laws that require people who would not already have a driver’s license, or whatever the precondition is, are a Poll Tax. That’s clear, and I’m not the only one who feels that way. What surprises me is that some people have the gall to propose this kind of stuff in 2012.

[Update: Voter turnout in 2008 is estimated at 56.8%. If there was any fraud in that amount, I would be surprised if it was even 100 people nationwide. This would not have changed 56.8% or the result of the major federal and state elections. It might have changed a dogcatcher one somewhere.]