Republicans are trying to legally rig elections: Ohio poll tax edition

Yesterday, ThinkProgress reported that Ohio Republicans are sponsoring a bill that would require citizens who don’t have a drivers license, passport or military ID to buy a special ID card in order to vote. Citizens who fall below the poverty line — $11,770 per year — would be exempted from the bill’s $8.50 fee, but they would still have to obtain the ID.

In case anyone needed a refresher, on a scale from one to unconstitutional, poll taxes are a 24. And passing and ID requirement tied to a a fee has been specifically rejected by the Supreme Court as recently as 2008. So one can’t help but appreciate the irony of these Constitution-waving Republicans — who are afraid that if they say “taxes” into a mirror three times Grover Norquist will appear and send them straight to the Soviet Union — pushing a poll tax that blatantly violates the 24th Amendment.

It’s also worth noting that you don’t necessarily have to charge money in order for a voting requirement to count as a poll tax. The costs associated with obtaining IDs such as drivers licenses and passports are often greater than the fee for the ID itself, so requiring an ID specific to voting could reasonably be interpreted as running afoul of poll tax restrictions.

Ohio via Shutterstock.

Ohio, via Shutterstock

As usual, the bill is being sold as an effort to push back against voter fraud that both doesn’t exist and can’t be prevented by the proposed policy. As MSNBC pointed out, a comprehensive inquiry into voter fraud in the 2012 election, conducted by Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, John Husted, found only 17 cases of non-citizens casting ballots. Since non-citizens can obtain drivers licenses, voter ID laws wouldn’t have kept them from voting.

Voter ID laws could address voter impersonation fraud. That is, if that sort of fraud existed. Husted’s report identified 0.002397 percent of Ohio’s 2012 votes as having been cast by people who might not have matched the name on the rolls.

Compare that with the 930,000 eligible Ohio voters who would be required to obtain extra ID under the new law. That figure includes approximately one in four African Americans in the state (260,000), along with 290,000 seniors.

The bill would also disproportionately affect college students, who Ohio couldn’t quite get around to disenfranchising earlier this year when they pushed an amendment in a routine transportation bill that would have required anyone registering to vote in Ohio to obtain an Ohio drivers license. That would have amounted to a $100 poll tax on any out-of-state college student who registered to vote on campus.

Once again, since this bears repeating, legal election rigging is not the side-project for Republicans that online voter registration is for Democrats. It is a fully-fledged pillar of American conservatism. These laws are part of a very broad claim as to what kind of democracy we should be living in — one in which citizens who aren’t likely to vote “correctly” shouldn’t be voting at all.

I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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