‘Block’ the vote: Voter ID laws replace Jim Crow poll taxes

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‘Block’ the vote: Voter ID laws replace Jim Crow poll taxes

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This is what happens when the Supreme Court rules in favor of voter ID laws and against critical sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Because of the twisted fixation on practically nonexistent voter fraud, decisions like Alabama’s to shutter 31 drivers’ license offices by March 1, 2016 — almost all of which are located in rural, majority black areas — will have a huge impact on the ability of poor minorities to vote.

Due to a proposed budget cut for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier announced in late August that the agency would be closing all but the state’s four largest drivers’ license branches, in order to absorb the cutbacks. The ALEA received $55 million in state funding in 2015, but the legislature wants to cut that to $40 million, for 2016.

In a state without voter ID laws, these closings would be easier to swallow. They would be an inconvenience, but they would hardly prevent underprivileged Americans from participating in the democratic process. But in Alabama, where voter ID has been required for more than a year, these closings take away the greatest opportunity for many poorer communities to obtain the required form of identification.

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill later clarified that despite the branch closings, voter IDs cards would be made available through the Secretary of State’s Office and local county board of registrars’ offices. In addition, drivers’ licenses are renewable online in Alabama.

This is all well and good, but it does not offset the fact that poor, minority voters will have to jump through a new set of hoops in order to guarantee the same rights that rich, white voters have always had. If you do not have the money to own a car, you likely would not be spending the money to renew your drivers’ license every however- many years. With voter ID laws, you are forced to go out of your way in order to secure your right to vote, and that is simply wrong.

Voter ID laws are written with the expressed intent of eliminating voter fraud at the ballots, an issue that — for all practical purposes — does not exist in the U.S. Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and a constitutional-law expert, has been investigating potential voter fraud for years and has found only 31 potential cases of in-person voting fraud, out of approximately 1 billion ballots cast since 2000. For mathematical fun, that is 0.000000031 percent of ballots that could potentially be fraudulent, and that includes multiple ballots in some cases.

Voter ID laws are reminiscent of the poll tax laws enacted following the abolition of slavery. Americans were forced to pay in order to vote, but most men whose father or grandfather had voted in a recent election were exempt. Because of this grandfather clause, the taxes mostly applied to black Americans who had recently been given the right to vote. Those who could not pay were denied the right to vote and were sent away from the polls. These poll taxes were a product of the Jim Crow South and were eventually abolished by the 24th Amendment.

In many ways, voter ID laws are the modern-day equivalent of Jim Crow poll taxes. They mostly affect poor, minority communities that have less access to transportation and less disposable income to afford the costs associated with obtaining an ID card. Something must be done to prevent these laws from disenfranchising underprivileged voters.

The right to vote is one of the most important in our country. It is the right on which our entire political system is founded. Without the right to vote, we are not a democracy, and by not protecting that right for our underprivileged citizens, we are allowing our government to be corrupted. Voter ID laws must be struck down as unconstitutional, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 must be restored. That is the only way for us to protect this fundamental right, and we owe it to our fellow Americans.