The new Republican majority in the NC General Assembly say that one of their top priorities, come January, will be passing a new voter photo i.d. law that will require citizens to present valid (government-issued?) photo identification in order to vote.
According to the State Board of Elections (via Scott Mooneyham), there were a whopping 18 acts of voter fraud in the 2008 cycle -- out of 4,353,739 ballots cast. As numbers go, that one's mildly amusing, considering the Republicans' lust to throw up more stumbling blocks to voting.
Another number presents itself: The Brennen Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law estimates that 10 percent of the total U.S. population do not possess a driver's license or other photo i.d. That would mean that an estimated 700,000 North Carolinians do not possess a photo i.d. Many would be elderly. Some would be indigent. Many more would be both. A few would just be eccentric or given to certain opinions about entangling themselves with government.
Un-photo-id-ed citizens will be required under the new Republican law to register with the grid, in effect, engage the government, sign up with The Matrix -- in short, they will be required to obtain "paper" on themselves, a record with an official mug-shot. Proving what exactly? That he/she has sufficient leisure -- for one thing -- and sufficient know-how to fill out the proper forms, present the proper documentation, properly swear to this one and that one -- and pay the fees. According to Chris Kromm at the Institute of Southern Studies, in North Carolina, a first-time learner permit starts at $15. "Don't drive? A U.S. passport card starts at $55."
What was the poll tax? An economic burden that fell much more heavily on a certain class of voter. After the Civil War, when poll taxes became popular in the South, the powers-that-be clearly expected a certain class of voter NOT to pay the tax, which was okay because the participation of that class in the voting franchise was unwelcome. Simple as that.
How is a new photo i.d. not another poll tax under a new name with a whole new set of hoops?
Photo i.d. voting laws are a growing trend in states where ruling elites perceive a new threat to their power, particularly from immigrants. Indiana was one of the first, followed by Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, and others. So far the Roberts Supreme Court has ruled that at least some of these laws are constitutional.
The U.S. Supremes from the beginning of the Republic were frankly indifferent to how the individual states identified their qualified voters. At first, they had to be white property owners. Poll taxes were instituted in the South only after the 14th and 15th amendments bestowed citizenship on former slaves and their descendants. The Supremes upheld poll taxes in several important rulings, from 1898 (Williams v. Mississippi) on up through 1951 (Butler v. Thompson). It was not until 1966 -- 1966! -- that the Court finally found poll taxes a fundamentally unfair burden, in Harper v. Virginia. This latest iteration of uneven requirements on the underclass is just more of the same old b.s.
North Carolina certainly has big problems right now. The new Republican majority in the General Assembly might focus on them, rather than on the non-problems sprouting from their fears of newcomers.
Yesterday in Rowan County, new Republican Speaker of the House To Be Thom Tillis said to a roomful of Republican Party regulars: "In 2012, when you vote, I hope you won't be annoyed when they ask you for a photo ID," drawing applause from the crowd.