When is a voter restriction law like a poll tax? This is the question posed by a wave of laws passed in 11 states that require voters to show state-issued photo IDs.
Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that such laws are not aimed at preventing voter fraud, as supporters claim, but to make it more difficult for minorities to exercise their right to vote. The new Texas photo ID law is like the poll taxes, Holder charges, used to disfranchise generations of African-American and Mexican-American citizens.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry denies this. He claims that using “poll tax” language is “designed to inflame passions and incite racial tension.” Perry is now demanding an apology from President Barack Obama for “Holder’s imprudent remarks.”
But no apology needs to be issued. For these laws function very much like a poll tax.
Poll taxes belong to an ugly chapter in U.S. race relations. They were part of the Southern states’ Jim Crow system, which prevailed from the late 19th century into the 1960s, and robbed blacks and other minorities of their political and civil rights.