Now Playing: "We're Not Gonna Take It"
October 19, 2005 NY Times Editorial
Abolishing the Poll Tax Again
Critics of Georgia's new voter-identification law, which forces many citizens to pay $20 or more for the documentation necessary to vote, have called it a modern-day poll tax, intended to keep blacks and poor people from voting. A federal judge supported these claims yesterday and blocked the law from taking effect.
Instead of continuing to defend the statute in court, Georgia should remove this throwback to the days of Jim Crow from its lawbooks.
Georgia Republicans, who get few votes from African-American voters, pushed a bill through the Legislature this year imposing the nation's toughest voter-identification requirements.
When it was passed, most of the state's black legislators walked out of the Capitol. Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., urged the governor to veto it. Under the new law, voters with driver's licenses were not inconvenienced. But it put up huge obstacles for voters without licenses, who are disproportionately poor and black. Most of them would have to get official state picture-identification cards and pay processing fees of $20 or more.
Incredibly - beyond the cost imposed on such voters - there was not a single office in Atlanta where the identification cards were for sale.
Republicans claimed the law was intended to prevent fraud, but that was just a pretext.
According to Georgia's secretary of state, Cathy Cox, in recent years there have been no documented cases of fraud through voter impersonation. There have been complaints about the misuse of absentee ballots, Ms. Cox says, but the new law actually loosened the antifraud protections that apply to them.
(Republicans and wealthier voters are more likely to vote by absentee vote. - Bill)
Clearly, Georgia Republicans supported the law because they believed that making it harder for blacks and poor people to vote would help their electoral chances.
The League of Women Voters of Georgia, the N.A.A.C.P. and other civil rights and voting rights groups sued. In a lengthy and hard-hitting opinion, Judge Harold Murphy of Federal District Court enjoined the state from enforcing the law. He relied in part on the 24th Amendment, which banned the old racist requirement that citizens pay poll taxes before being allowed to vote in federal elections.
At least one Georgia state senator is vowing to appeal, if necessary, all the way to the Supreme Court. That would send an ugly message about the state of American democracy. In the civil rights era, Southern states had to be told again and again by federal courts not to try to stop their black citizens from voting. It is shameful that in 2005, Georgia needs to be told again.