EDITORIAL: Modern day poll tax

Last month, before congressional Republicans headed home to try to hold onto their seats, the GOP leadership pushed through the House the hypocritically labeled “Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006,” HR 4844.

Sponsored by right-wing Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde, the bill would require every voter, in elections for federal office, to provide a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Going further, by 2010 the only kind of photo ID that would allow you to vote is one for which you had to provide proof of U.S. citizenship.

Individuals without such ID could cast a provisional ballot, but they would have to come up with the required ID within 48 hours in order for their vote to count.

If individuals can’t afford the state fee to obtain the ID, the measure says they can get the fee waived by providing “an attestation” that they are too poor to pay.

Theodore Shaw, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the measure “un-American” and “a modern day poll tax,” noting that it requires all eligible voters “to engage in a bureaucratic process to obtain a citizen ID that includes swearing poverty.”

HR 4844 passed the House 228-196 with Republicans overwhelmingly voting yes and Democrats overwhelmingly voting no. So far no companion bill has been introduced in the Senate. But several states have passed their own photo ID bills and other voting restrictions. Many have been blocked by the courts, but the danger to democracy continues.

The U.S. has one of the lowest voter participation rates in the world, ranking 139 out of 172 countries. Noting this, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said, “We should be doing everything we can to remove the barriers to voting.”

Lee continued, “We should have been debating legislation to fix the real problems with the 2002 and 2004 elections — long voting lines, voter intimidation, faulty machines, poor training of poll workers, discriminatory voter registration laws, or, for example, making Election Day a federal holiday so that everyone can exercise their right to vote.”

We agree.

Urgent action is needed to protect our right to vote, this Nov. 7 and beyond.