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Watching the G.O.P. War on Voting Rights

New America Media | 11/29/2011, 1:25 p.m.
Ninety-seven-year-old Emma Lee Green balances an armload of old books and yellowing papers around the...

Ninety-seven-year-old Emma Lee Green balances an armload of old books and yellowing papers around the stacks of musty files in her San Bernardino attic. She remembers well the days of Jim Crow, poll taxes and literacy tests that barred many African-American citizens from the voting booth.

Americans recently set their clocks back one hour. But a wave of new voting restrictions could turn back the clock to the days poll taxes and literacy tests meant to stop African-Americans from voting.

She witnessed first-hand the valiant struggle to ensure that all American citizens could raise their voices on Election Day.

Like she has done for nearly 65 years, last week Emma went to the polls to vote in the local elections.

But one year from now, mill ions of Black Americans like Emma could find themselves shut out of that essential democratic right.

This year, thirty-four state legislatures introduced bills requiring photo identification in order to vote. This rash of legislation classifies several previously accepted IDs as unacceptable, and will affect roughly 21 million Americans if they are passed.

With the election season on the horizon a new report is warning the legal disenfranchisement of voters threatens to play a decisive role in next year's vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non partisan policy institute change to voting laws could strip the voting rights of more than 5 million people, a higher number than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.

It's findings show that new laws regarding photo identification requirements for voting, eliminating same day voter registration in several states, requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, changing requirements for voter registration drives, reducing early voting days and restoring the right to vote for convicted felons will make voting harder and swing the 1964 Voting Rights pendulum backward.

The report predicts the new curbs will have a major impact on those inclined to vote for Democratic candidates saying "these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low income voters as well as on voters with disabilities."

Emma insists the new wave of voting restrictions amount to a modern-day poll tax.

"You see this (referring to a 1959 receipt for poll taxes) the book ain't closed on keeping us from voting," she said angrily.

"Requiring a photo ID is really just a way to reduce the number of black and brown voters. That's what the Democrats did after 1898 ...," she said.

The term poll tax has a contemptuous history in the United States. It was used in the South during and after Reconstruction as a means of circumventing the 14th Amendment and denying civil rights to Blacks. This form of taxation gradually fell out of favor in the South in the mid-20th century, but it was not until the adoption of the 24th Amendment that poll taxes were made illegal as a prerequisite for voting in federal elections. That same prohibition was later extended to all elections.

The poll tax argument has been renewed with the national push by secretive right-wing groups, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, to pass voter suppression laws such as Wisconsin's voter ID bill.