Unless, as last week in a case from Texas, a federal court reads a more contemporary law say, the federal Voting Rights Act as requiring something completely different.
The Texas Legislature, following a disturbing trend of Republican-controlled states across the country, had passed a law that required voters to produce one of five forms of official government identification, such as a driver license or passport, in order to be allowed to cast a ballot. A federal appeals court rightly quashed the law as a clear attempt to make it more difficult for poor people, who are more likely to support Democrats, to vote.
The law allowed voters who did not have one of the named forms of ID, because they do not drive and certainly do not fly to other countries, to get a free voter ID. But they would have to visit a Texas Department of Public Safety office, in some cases a one-way trip of up to 250 miles, and pay $22 for a certified copy of their birth certificate. It was, the U.S. Justice Department argued and the court agreed, a complicated form of a poll tax, prohibited by the Constitution.
Supporters of the law, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, argued that it is needed to prevent fraudulent voting at the polls, the same argument for similar laws elsewhere. That is despite the fact that in-person voter fraud is more rare in the United States than Sasquatch sightings.
Texas is not the only state engaged in such blatant forms of voter suppression. And they haven't all been in the Old South. Efforts have been made in states from Maine to Ohio to Kansas to make it harder to register to vote, to reduce or eliminate early-voting periods or to require forms of ID that as many as one in 10 voters do not possess. Such laws in swing states such as Ohio and Florida could make the difference in this year's presidential election.
The argument that such forms of ID are necessary for boarding a commercial airliner or renting a car are insultingly off base. Flying and driving are not constitutional rights that form the basis of democracy. Voting is.