Saturday, July 14, 2012

Poll Tax

Several states, including my own, are trying to jam through laws that will require voter photo identification. That so many of these are happening all-at-once convinces me that it is a planned strategy of the current National Republican Party.
by Charlie Leck

I was sitting with Curtiss Muhammad, a brilliant philosopher. We were in a Western Sizzlin' restaurant on the outskirts of Meridian, Mississippi. Other folks were going to join us for dinner, but they were running quite late. I’d met Curtiss, the first time, in June of 2008. He wasn’t very talkative that year. I was a new face and black folk are a bit slow to accept just anyone in America’s Deep South. A testin’ time is required.

Here, now, in the hot summer of 2012, Curtiss was ready to philosophize. His voice is sonorous and, yet, soothing at the same time. That evening I was a rapt listener

“It’s a poll tax,” Curtiss said. “Ain’t no moh complicated than that! We been through it before. It don’t come as no surprise.”

Many states in the nation, including Mississippi, Minnesota and Texas are trying to pass voter identification laws, requiring all voters to have photo identification. Curtiss was shaking his head at the idea.

“Poll tax! They think we’s fools. Charge a man thirteen dollars to get a picture i-d if'n he don’t have a driver’s licence. Ain’t nothin’ but a poll tax.”

Curtiss wasn’t angry. He was amused. He laughed and shook his head.

“Voter fraud is what they say! Ain’t no voter fraud, man! They say they tryin’ to stop the stealin’ of elections. They just preparing to steal an election! That’s all!”

He threw his head back and laughed again. Then he shook a finger.

“That’s they alls way of stealin’ elections! Just institute a poll tax that the poh ain’t able to pay! We been there! We done that! Just a poll tax!”

I sat silently as he paused. He munched some on his crisply breaded fish, holding a big piece in his fingers. When he put it down, he sipped on his ice tea and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Down there in Texas it’s gonna cost a man twenty-two dollars to git his i-d. Some folk hafta travel near twenty miles to git it. They could take millions outta the votin’ booth. Millions! It’s all a scam and we been scammed before. Those that are down and out, the poh, they ain’t votin’ for them Republicans. Better then get as many of ‘em as possible just outta the way. Poll tax! Clear and simple!”

He tore into some more of his food. He didn’t seem angry. He was just amused. America’s white power structure made Curtiss Muhammad laugh. After sipping on some more iced tea, he began shaking his finger again.

“1965 Voter’s Rights Act! They never liked that. It allow too many poh people to vote. Yes, it did! Now they say they ain’t discriminatin’ or nothin’ like that! You believe that?”

I shook my head from side to side.

“Just one more attempt to stop the poh from votin’ is all it is!” Curtiss was shaking his head and smiling broadly.

“Yup,” I said, “it’s just a poll tax!”

“Yes it is,” the philosopher said. “It’s just a poll tax!”

“Under the Texas law, the minimum cost to obtain a voter ID for a state resident without a copy of his birth certificate would be $22, according to the Justice Department. While the ‘election identification certificate’ needed to vote is free, the state legislature voted down a proposal to allow people to get the documents needed for the voter ID for free.

“In his closing argument, Justice lawyer Matthew Colangelo said that the Texas law will disenfranchise more than a million African American and Hispanic voters and ‘is exactly the type of law’ that Congress had in mind when it passed the Voting Rights Act.

The trial unfolded against the backdrop of a fierce national debate over voting rights during an election year. Earlier this week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. vowed to challenge voting laws such as the one in Texas, calling them “poll taxes” because of the costs associated with getting voter IDs.

The remark, a reference to fees that were imposed during the Jim Crow era, angered Republicans, who accused the attorney general of playing 'identity politics.'” [Washington Post, 14 July 2012]

Curtiss Muhammad shook his head and laughed.

“Ain’t no surprises here, my friend! Poll tax!”

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