Sunday, May 29, 2011

24th Amendment, Anyone?

So the Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 is now the law of the land, apparently.

This is appalling – a bald-faced attempt by the Teabaggers to render themselves above the will of the citizenry of the republic and of a piece with their general contempt for democracy in any form – but not really surprising. Really, the only odd part is that it took them this long to get it enacted. Most Americans have no real interest in protecting their own rights or preserving the foundations of the United States from the assaults of authoritarian power, so you’d think the Teabaggers –business-worshipping streamlining experts, the lot of them, or so they claim – would have been more efficient about it.

So much for that myth.

The Teabaggers have tried to sell this as an attempt to stem an alleged tide of voter fraud. This is nonsense. There is no voter fraud, not among the electorate (though among the people who count the votes, now that’s another story). A two-year investigation by the Teabagger Attorney General of Wisconsin – a man so nakedly partisan that it’s almost refreshing in its lack of pretense – found exactly 11 potentially fraudulent votes out of nearly 3,000,000 votes cast. For those of you not good at math, that works out to just shy of 0.0004% of the votes, a rate that would be considered unproblematic by anyone with any actual contact with reality.

Face it, if the current Attorney General of Wisconsin can’t come up with anything that would support his own political ambitions, it’s probably not an issue.

So it’s not about voter fraud.

No, this is an attempt to disenfranchise voters who don’t have a photo ID.

The last time I checked, having a photo ID was not a requirement for American citizenship. There’s nothing in the Constitution about having a photo ID, which makes me wonder once again about the sincerity of the Teabaggers’ loudly professed love for that document. Isn't the whole ID thing one of the big paranoid charges of the extreme right wing, anyway? I wish these people would be consistent.

You have to remember who's being targeted here. The people who don’t have photo IDs tend to be poor. They tend to be non-white. They tend to be young. They tend to be students (and no, college IDs don’t count). And they tend to regard the Teabaggers as the hateful blots on the American republic that they are, which makes them ideal people to disenfranchise, from the Teabagger point of view.

There are any number of things that are wrong with the Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011, and to list them all here would require a stronger stomach than I possess.

But there is one that hasn’t gotten much attention, as far as I can tell.

The Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 requires potential voters to have one of only a handful of types of photo IDs. You can have a drivers’ license. You can have a military ID card, which would probably be for absentee voters since the military tends to move people about the country and the world rather than leave them home. Or you can have a state ID, which you can get through the Department of Transportation, the same people who provide drivers’ licenses.

Now, the military IDs are one thing. I’m not in the military – never have been – so I won’t comment on how those work.

But the one thing that the civilian IDs that the vast majority of Wisconsin voters would be required by law to possess have in common is that the DOT will charge you money for them.

You have to pay the state a fee.

Let me say that a little plainer. Under the terms of the Wisconsin Voter Suppression Law of 2011, you are required to pay the state a fee in order to possess the required qualifications to vote.

In other words, this is a poll tax.

And it is unconstitutional.

The United States Constitution, as amended by the 24th Amendment in 1964, bans the imposition of a poll tax, however nominal, for any reason, in any federal election. It’s quite plain.

“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.”

The Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 does not differentiate between elections in which there are candidates running for federal office and elections in which there are not. It simply describes what it wants all voters to do in order to vote in any election in Wisconsin.

The State of Wisconsin is not empowered to check the ballots of voters to make sure that they vote only in some races and not others. Therefore, unless the State of Wisconsin wishes to hold separate elections for purely state and local races, it cannot demand a poll tax of its citizens. That is not in the bill.

The Wisconsin Voter Suppression Act of 2011 does allow individual voters to petition to have a free ID rather than paying for it, but one assumes that such petitions are judged on some criteria and either accepted or rejected. If the State rejects so much as a single petition, it would be effectively enforcing a poll tax. Further, even if all petitions are accepted the fact is that not all voters will ask, and the further fact that some voters have to pay and others don’t doesn’t seem to be sufficient to wiggle out of the determination that this is, in fact an unconstitutional poll tax.

Funny thing about the Constitution – it has some interesting bits in it, for those who bother to read it.

I wish more people would.


vince said...

The GOP in Minnesota is pushing a similar bill. The biggest difference is that in their bill, the state must provide a photo ID for free if you don't have one, eliminating the 24th amendment problem.

David said...

I think that would mitigate but not eliminate the 24th Amendment problem.

For example, I have a drivers license. I paid for it. But why should I be penalized for doing so? Why should my voting rights be subject to my ability to pay? Why should I have to pay to vote when others get to vote for free?

In order to eliminate the 24th Amendment problem, my guess is that the state would be obligated to provide a suitable photo ID to every registered voter at no charge whatsoever.

This would create both an additional level of bureaucracy and a significant expense that doesn't seem to fit with the general program of the people pushing such laws.

tellthestories said...

Whoooooo, David! I think your analysis is the first I've read to take this angle. As always, well-written and gets to the heart of the matter.

David said...

Thanks, Kerri!

vince said...

In order to eliminate the 24th Amendment problem, my guess is that the state would be obligated to provide a suitable photo ID to every registered voter at no charge whatsoever.

That's a good point.

tom said...

So when does some smart law student sue the state of WI for
violating voter federal registration rules?