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Friday, December 10, 2010

Modern-day poll tax?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 10, 2010 at 11:37 AM

I say this often, but that's because it bears repeating: If you don't know your rights, if you don't exercise your rights, if you don't stand up for your rights — you risk losing your rights. The right to vote is critical in a country such as ours, as is understanding the history behind our voting rights.

With that, I'd like to direct you this article, "Proposed North Carolina voter ID law: A modern-day poll tax?" from the Institute for Southern Studies:

In 1898, when North Carolina Democrats seized control of the state legislature, one of their first steps was to pass an amendment to the state constitution requiring that voters pass a literacy test and pay a poll tax before they could vote.

Then campaigning on a platform of "white supremacy," Democrats insisted the Jim Crow laws -- which, thanks to a "lineage" exception, only applied to blacks -- were necessary to prevent "voter fraud."

But Republicans saw a more sinister agenda at work: According to an 1881 dispatch in The New York Times, written when Democrats first pushed the voting restrictions:

In this way [Democrats] expect to disenfranchise 40,000 Republican voters and make North Carolina a Democratic State for many years.

The impact of the voting restrictions was dramatic: Voting participation by African-American males, largely Republicans, plummeted across the South from 98 percent in 1885 to 10 percent in 1905, according to historian J. Morgan Kousser.

Today, voting rights advocates in North Carolina fear that history may be repeating itself. After winning control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, Republican lawmakers have made it their top legislative priority to pass new election restrictions that require voters to produce photo identification at the polls.

As Bob Hall of the elections watchdog group Democracy North Carolina argues:

Requiring a photo ID is really just a way to reduce the number of voters Republicans don't like. It's exactly what the Democrats did after 1898 ... We're suffering the legacy of that enforced disenfranchisement still today.

Read the rest of this post, by Chris Kromm, here.

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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