Tokaji: Are new voter identification laws the new poll tax?

Dan Tokaji (who writes on his Equal Vote blog) has written an op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times, arguing that state requirements for government-issued photographic identification are the modern equilivant of poll taxes. Here’s part of his op-ed that summarizes his argument:

In fact, there’s reason to believe that suppressing turnout is precisely the motivation behind the strictest voter ID laws. There are almost no documented cases of people pretending to be someone they’re not at the polls, the only “problem” that these laws purport to address. On the other hand, there is considerable evidence that requiring ID will suppress turnout among some groups of voters.

To combat the discrimination argument, some states have agreed to make ID cards free. Yet voters still must pay for the documents needed to get the ID, such as birth certificates. Even more significant is the burden on voters’ time, disproportionately borne by poorer voters who don’t own a car. How many of them will expend the time and money to collect the required documents and then wait in line at the state motor vehicle office, only to face the prospect of yet another line when they go to vote? A few surely will, but many will not.

Nevertheless, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Indiana law. The opinion by Judge Richard Posner, a prominent conservative, downplayed the law’s effect by saying it’s “exceedingly difficult to maneuver in today’s America without photo ID.” This may be true of the elite circles in which Posner travels, but the reality is that many less-fortunate people in our society don’t have photo ID.

This burden that Indiana’s law imposes might be defensible if the state had evidence that ID is needed to prevent polling place fraud, but that evidence simply doesn’t exist. The state of Indiana couldn’t document a single case of voter impersonation at the polls. In other words, voter ID is a solution in search of a problem.