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Jabari Asim: Jim Crow Poll Tax 2.0

Posted on Aug 13, 2006

By Jabari Asim

GOP’ers say it’s just a coincidence that Democratic voters are the ones most likely to be disenfranchised by new photo ID requirements at the voting booths. Yeah, and I’ve got some fertile Missouri mules to sell you.

WASHINGTON—“It was not a difficult walk. It was for a good reason.’‘

Those were the words of Besisa Mbaguna, a Congolese man who last month walked barefoot for two and a half hours to reach his polling place and cast his vote in his country’s elections. Considering Congo’s troubled history and its oppressive ruling class, it’s fair to marvel that people such as Mbaguna got to vote at all. One can also wonder whether those votes will actually count, despite the best efforts of United Nations officials who oversaw the elections.

It’s easy to imagine, for instance, that in such a country, Mbaguna could have been stopped short of the polls and turned away for some untenable reason—say, lack of a photo ID. In Congo, sure, but certainly not in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Or so one would like to think. But the efforts of Republican lawmakers in Georgia, Indiana and, most recently, Missouri seemed aimed at making it as difficult to vote beneath our spacious skies as it is in war-torn Third World nations. Missouri, my home state, became the third member of this notorious trio in June, when Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law a requirement that voters show government-issued photo IDs at the polls starting in November.


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Blunt and others say the law will prevent fraud. Their opponents rightly point out that the measure disproportionately affects those who have been disfranchised in the past, such as the poor and racial minorities. Besides, they argue, Missouri hasn’t exactly suffered from an epidemic of imposters showing up to vote.

As one of the lawsuits filed to block the measure puts it, “It is statistically more likely for a Missourian to be struck by a bolt of lightning than to have his or her vote canceled by someone posing as another voter to cast a ballot.’‘

Lower-income Missourians will have to fork over their feeble funds to buy the documents needed to get the ID cards, which will be free. That most of those folks tend to vote Democratic is just a coincidence, proponents of the cards contend. Right, and I have some nice fertile Missouri mules for sale.

Two of the state’s Democratic congressmen, William “Lacy’’ Clay Jr. of St. Louis and Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, are among those supporting the lawsuits. Cleaver said the law’s “sole intention is to disenfranchise and reduce the number of citizens allowed to vote.’’ Clay called the measure “nothing more than a 21st-century poll tax.’‘

His reference to Jim Crow-era tactics used to stop African-Americans at the polls takes on additional resonance in the wake of last month’s extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. When President Bush signed the legislation, he impressively asserted “the right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future.’‘

That eloquent comment acquires no small share of irony when one recalls that last year Bush’s Justice Department approved Georgia’s photo ID measure. That law, like the poll taxes of days gone by, would place a modern-day hurdle between ordinary folks and that vaunted future the president memorably invoked. Georgia’s ID requirement has since been blocked in both state and federal courts, which ruled that it imposed unnecessary burdens on voters. (A district judge in Indiana ruled in favor of that state’s law. Her decision is under appeal.)

The voting-rights extension that Bush signed had been passed over the objections of a stubborn faction of Southern Republicans, including Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who claimed “we have repented, and we have reformed.” Where voter-ID laws fit into that reform is a mystery to me.

I’m fairly sure that nobody in the United States has to journey barefoot for hours to cast a vote. Compared with the ordeals of Besisa Mbaguna and his countrymen, simply acquiring a photo ID is a walk in the park. But it is a hurdle nonetheless, especially if you’re poor. Given our nation’s anemic Election Day turnouts, discouragement is the last thing a prospective voter needs. If anything, our state governments should be looking for ways to bring more citizens to the polls, not fewer.

Gov. Blunt has described the new law as a new way to build public trust in elections. He no doubt is familiar with our state’s most popular expression: I’m from Missouri, you have to show me.

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By Hondo, August 17, 2006 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The comments about this article sure have gone pretty far afield. I think that the main point of the delusional Mr. Asim was that asking for ID at the voting polls amounts to discrimination. Poppycock! There isn’t one single voter ID law in the country that discriminates. All of them offer so much flexibility that the only way that a person could possible have a problem with them is if they were a liberal trying to commit voter fraud. Hey! Maybe that’s the point!

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By blair, August 17, 2006 at 9:09 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

nice one, jabari

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By Todd, August 17, 2006 at 7:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Billy Goat, just mentioning names of countries does not mean they have more fair elections than the US.

Sister Clamp - The US is not a democracy, it is a representative Republic.  There is a huge difference.  You need to understand how the USA become a nation, through the union of seperate colonies (the states) and the division of power between the federal government and the states.  That will answer you questions regarding the Electoral College, the different methods of voting, etc.  Remember 99% of all voting is for a STATE official (even the House of Representatives are, in effect, State officials, representing the people in their district).  I’m not attacking your post, merely pointing out that your errors and giving you something to research.

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By Sister Clamp, August 15, 2006 at 9:59 pm Link to this comment
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As a foreigner who has lived & worked in the USA, it is amusing that you still even consider yourself a “democracy”:
* Having elections on working days and docking the pay of blue-collar citizens who want time off to vote?
* The concept of the “Electoral College” where, even if you poll more votes than your opponent it’s not important because you can be gerrymandered into a loss?
* The lack of consistency in voting methods across the country?
* The lopsided ratio of polling booths in poor versus rich suburbs?
* The invitation of Republican-only candidates to professional companies?
* The financial hurdles to any candidate who dares run outside the Republican/Democratic Party lovefest?
* The malicious accusations against the Greens for, after all, participating in democracy by voting for Nader in 2000?
I could go on, ad nauseam.
It’s obvious that the one country that sorely needs proper voting supervision, if not a complete overhaul, is the Land of the Free. Like that will ever happen.

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By Billy Goat Gruff, August 15, 2006 at 4:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Todd asks about third world countries with “fairer” elections than the U.S.  Off the top of my head, here’s a list of contenders based on nationwide polls held in the last decade.

Latin America:

Bolivia, Brasil, Venezuela - Chavez’s election was approved by the Carter Center and European observers, Argentina



The Republic of South Africa, Uganda,

True the Republicans lectured Mugabe in Zimbabwe leading to an endless source of satire considering Florida and then Ohio.


India, Thailand, Indonesia, The Phillipines

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By J. Walker, August 14, 2006 at 5:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Gov. Blunt has described the new law as a new way to build public trust in elections….HAAA..HA HA HAH HAAAH ! Now that’s a good one.

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By IraM, August 14, 2006 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think you should need to prove that Jesus is your savior, this way we can later hunt down and arrest the infidels. (sic)

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By Todd, August 14, 2006 at 2:15 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

How do we go from an article about needing an ID to vote to stealing elections?  Please name me one 3rd World Country with more fair elections than the US.

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By Matt Janovic, August 14, 2006 at 1:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Comment #18231 by Collin on 8/14 at 1:00 pm

The Dems has talked about one thing for a long time:  Every vote counts.

The Reps has a similar goal:  Every legal vote counts.

Take your pick.


If you are a naturalized-citizen, you should be able to vote. Period. Yep, I even believe people in-prison should have that right, though it would be conditional. I’ve seen your blog Bibleboy—boooring.

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By Collin, August 14, 2006 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Dems has talked about one thing for a long time:  Every vote counts.

The Reps has a similar goal:  Every legal vote counts.

Take your pick.


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By Matt Janovic, August 14, 2006 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Our elections are now considered less-secure than in Central America—food-for-thought. Time for international-observers? I think so.

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By kevin99999, August 14, 2006 at 10:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The GOP, with the help of corporate media, electronic voting machines manipulated by their cooporated allies, and the right wing poliically appointed Supreme Court, have gotten used to stealing elections. The are not going to give it up. They dont need issues when they can steal. May be we should have intertional bodies here monitoring our elections to judge their fairness. Lot of the third world countries have a fairer elections than the U.S.

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By Mike #2, August 14, 2006 at 12:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The only problem we have had with our recent elections is that the Repugnantcans have continually tried and succeeded in making it more difficult for people to vote, and they have tried to rig results via the Diebold machines.  This story is further proof that they have consolidated power and will do anything to hang on to it.  Our Justice Dept. and Supreme Court are a joke when it comes to protecting the common man.  The Main Stream Media (MSM) are equally complicit in the destruction of our democracy.  They say NOTHING about it.

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