Speaking at the NAACP convention in Houston on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General labeled the Texas voter ID law a poll tax. He said, “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.”
Poll taxes were enacted in the South to keep poor blacks from voting, as a part of the Jim Crow laws. They were a reaction to the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1870, guaranteeing to people of all colors the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1964, when the 24th Amendment was ratified, that those taxes became illegal.
A federal court in Washington is currently hearing arguments on the Texas photo id law. In her opening statements, Department of Justice counsel Elizabeth Westfall said the evidence would show that as many as 1.4 million legitimate voters lack the identification required under Texas’ new law, and it would also show that the law discriminates against minority voters. Changes to Texas voting laws have to be approved by the federal government due to the state’s history of discrimination.
Holder observed that in recent months, “Texas has—in many ways—been at the center of our national debate about voting rights issues. Let me be clear: we will not allow political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right.” A mere 8% of white voters don’t possess valid IDs, whereas 25% of African-Americans do not. Overall, the history of America has moved toward the expansion of the electorate and “we will simply not allow this era to be the beginning of the reversal of that historic progress.”
You can hear his speech here: