Texas Proposes TWO Poll Taxes, Same Requirements Kept Tens of Thousands Off Medicaid Rolls
By McCamy Taylor
Today's Fort Worth Star Telegram has an excellent editorial about two bills in Texas which Republicans have introduced in an attempt to protect their majority in the state legislature. The two bills would require voters to provide (at minimum) a certified birth certificate in order to register to vote and a photo ID such as a driver's license along with a voter registration card in order to cast a vote. Ironically, federal Medicaid requirements passed last year that recipients show a certified birth certificate and a photo ID have lead to tens of thousands of people being denied benefits to which they were entitled.
Recall that Tom Delay is under indictment for orchestrating a scheme to funnel corporate money into state races (illegally) to help the GOP take over the Texas legislature so that the state could be redistricted to help the GOP retain control of Congress. The plan backfired. Delay got caught. The Republicans lost Congress last fall. However, the Texas Legislature is still in the hands of the GOP and they would like to keep it that way.Therefore, they have introduced two bills that will make it much harder for people to vote.
Two bills are scheduled for debate Monday in the lower chamber: House Bill 218, which would require a photo ID along with a voter registration card to cast a ballot, and HB 626, which would require a certified copy of a birth certificate, passport or naturalization certificate to register to vote.
Opponents, who promise an intense floor fight, note that such requirements put undue hardships particularly on ethnic minorities, the elderly and the poor. They also say that these bills were introduced because these citizens are also believed to trend toward voting Democratic.
Considering the cost of certified copies of documents, these bills are, in effect, proposing a new poll tax. A certified copy of a birth certificate costs $23; a passport is $85; a naturalization certificate is $200.
There are several problems that are immediately apparent with these bills. The most glaring is the requirement for a minimum of a certified birth certificate for registration and a driver's license to cast a vote. Last year the federal government passed a law requring that people registering for Medicaid present a certified birth certificate or other documents as above.
A new federal rule intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving Medicaid has instead shut out tens of thousands of United States citizens who have had difficulty complying with requirements to show birth certificates and other documents proving their citizenship, state officials say.
Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia have all reported declines in enrollment and traced them to the new federal requirement, which comes just as state officials around the country are striving to expand coverage through Medicaid and other means.
Think about it. If people are unable or unwilling to comply with the requirements government sets in order to get health insurance (that they may desperately need) what are laws requiring a certified birth certificate to register and a drivers license to vote going to do to voter turn out? You do not need to have a degree in political science to figure that one out. High voter turn out last fall was credited with Democratic gains across the country (including Texas). Supressing voter turnout---especially among those who will have the hardest time coming up with the money to pay for a certified birth certificate and among those who may not drive--will improve Texas Republican's chances of holding on to the state Legislature in a year when no Bush will head the ticket.
However, there may be more to these two vote supressing bills than a mere instict for self preservation on the part of the Texas state Republican legislators. The Bush administrations' efforts to create the illusion of a vote fraud crisis has been a failure. The Election Assistance Commission which was supposed to uncover widespread vote fraud, instead found little or no vote fraud (except with absentee ballots, which tend to favor Republicans). The Bush administration tried to supress the report.
And two weeks ago, the panel faced criticism for refusing to release another report it commissioned concerning voter identification laws. That report, which was released after intense pressure from Congress, found that voter identification laws designed to fight fraud can reduce turnout, particularly among members of minorities. In releasing that report, which was conducted by a different set of scholars, the commission declined to endorse its findings, citing methodological concerns.
Worse yet for the Bush administration, as part of the Gonzo-gate scandal, it has become apparent that federal attorneys were pressured to prosecute people who made simple errors in filling out voter registration forms or in casting votes in order to inflate the non-existent problem of vote fraud. Biskupic of Wisconsin has come under particular fire for his excessive and often unsuccessful prosecutions in this area. Stellar prosecutors in New Mexico and Washington were dismissed because they would not act more like Biskupic.
With the war in Iraq continuing to anger voters and the tide of public opinion turning towards the Democrats according to a recent national poll, how are the Republicans to keep from having more losses in 2008? One way is to keep control of state governments that are already in Republican hands. To do that, they need to supress Democratic voter turnout in those states. The most reliable way to do that is to make voters pay money and present documents and stand in line and jump through as many hoops as possible in order to vote.
The problem with the poll tax--a law that requires that a voter pay a fee or do something that costs money in order to vote--is that it is illegal. Courts have traditionally ruled against them. The problem with getting a poll tax in place in a state like Texas is the Voting Rights Act which assumes that any law which a state like Texas or Georgia or Mississippi passes that relates to voting will be illegal and therefore the Department of Justice must sign off on it.
Under John Ashcroft and Al Gonzales this has not been so much of a problem. The Bush administration Justice Department has overruled its own career lawyers and rubber stamped Voting Rights Act violating laws in Georgia (its poll tax) and in Texas (the redistricting). It has been up to the courts to set things right. Below are links to several of my journal entries at Democratic Underground about this topic.
However, the courts are getting stacked with a bunch of Federalists, which is why I called this journal entry SCOTUS Votes 5:4 to Uphold Voting Rights Act: Democracy By a Thread
Thanks to Ashcroft's non-enforcement and the climate of Anything Goes, election fraud reached epidemic proportion in 2004, with bogus voter registrations in which Democrats found their registration forms shredded, more questionable E-voting and, of course, Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell's blatant disregard of the Voting Right's Act. He broke the law so many times, it was ludicrous---and the Department of Justice looked the other way in every single instance, because everything Blackwell had done favored the Attorney General's boss.
Now, thanks to this laissez-faire attitude, the gloves are off. State legislatures in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and Ohio have passed laws that violate the Voting Rights Act. Not only has the Department of Justice failed to act, it actually rubber stamped a photo ID law in Georgia that the federal courts later struck down as amounting to a poll tax. Secretaries of State in Ohio and California are actively disenfranchising voters--and no one is acting to defend the voter's rights. Not the Department of Justice, not the Republican controlled Congress.
The only federal governmental body left that seems to believe that the Voting Rights Act is still the law of the land is the judiciary. And even at the Supreme Court of the United States, it is a 5 to 4 decision. One more Justice, and the Voting Rights Act will be dead in our lifetime, whether or not Congress ratifies it again.
Unfortunately, we may fast be approaching the tipping point with the SCOTUS. In the Texas redistricting case, the Court split its decision. What will the presence of Alito mean? Last fall the court let stand an Arizona law requiring that people show photo ID in order to cast a vote. What if Stevens or one of the older more liberal Justices retires suddenly and W. has a chance to replace him? Will the GOP get a SCOTUS approved poll tax for voter registration, too? What will this double hurdle do to voter participation?
I believe that the two bills under consideration in the Texas House may well be part of a larger scheme orchestrated by people like Karl Rove to get a poll tax law--or two-- before a new, more conservative Supreme Court. Now, in order for this plan to work, Al Gonzales will have to do what he does best. He will have to hinder the Voting Rights division at the Department of Justice, since Texas is one of the states which is automatically subject to federal scrutiny. Although these laws are almost certainly going to suppress Democratic voter turnout--just look at what similar laws did to Medicaid enrollment--and although there is no proof that there is any need for theses laws, we can anticipate that the Department of Justice will rubber stamp them, if they make it through the Texas Legislature.
At that point, they will be subject to state and then federal court challenge. If the Republicans can get the new Roberts court to make a ruling that says "It is perfectly ok to demand that voters attempting to register must furnish documentation costing this much money even in the absence of any proven threat" then we will see a flurry of poll tax laws being proposed all across the country. They will become the "No gay marriage" bills of the second half of this decade.
Read the comments section at the end of the Fort Worth Star Telegram editorial. There is a hard core faction of the Republican base that it absolutely outraged that minorities and poor people and the disabled get to cast the same vote that they are allowed to cast. They take delight in the thought of stripping someone else of a vote. These are the people whom Karl Rove and the RNC are attempting to appeal to with their flurry of new and improved poll taxes.
Ideally, these two laws should be shot down in the Texas legislature. I hope that by the end of the week, they will have been forgotten. I worry that they are part of a larger scheme dreamed up by Rove and Co. and that we will be hearing a lot more about them in the months to come.
Here is a link to Sonias running thread about these bills over at DU