Rachel Maddow on the New Poll Tax
From The Rachel Maddow Show Nov. 2, 2008.
In January 1964, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution abolished the poll tax. A poll tax was a fee you had to pay at the time of voting. If you didn't have the money to pay the poll tax, you couldn't vote. In other words the only people had an affective right to vote were people rich enough to be able to pay the poll tax. Anybody too poor to pay it had no real right to vote. That's why southern states had the poll tax. It was a handy way to keep poor African Americans from voting even if they technically had a Constitutional right to do so. Well it's 44 years down the road now since the poll tax was Constitutionally abolished and what do you know, we've got, sort of, another poll tax. It looks like this.
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This is a poll tax. If you have early voted already how much did it cost you to vote? An hour? Two, three, four, five, six hours? I got on line at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel web site today to check out the wait times for early voting there. They did not list a single voting site in all of Broward County Florida with less than a two and a half hour estimated wait time. If your voting site was the African American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale, that will be six hours please sir. At Miramar City Hall in Miramar Florida, that will be five hours please ma'am. At the Papano Beach Library, five hours please.
This is a poll tax. How much do you get paid for an hour of work? Do you have the kind of job that would be delighted to give you an hour, or a half day, a whole day off work because you were waiting in line at your precinct? Even if it won't cost you your job can you afford to not work those hours? Are you elderly or disabled and not have the physical stamina for that kind of exertion? This is a poll tax.
Now it is patriotically inspiring to see Americans who are willing and able to stand in a six hour long line and to vote. It's inspiring and it's great. It makes me teary frankly. But who is not in those lines because they can't afford to be? How many people didn't early vote in Georgia, in Florida and North Carolina and Ohio because the lines were too long and they couldn't afford the multiple hour wait and so they decided to wait and see if hopefully the lines will be less long on Tuesday, on election day itself. Well what if the lines are long on election day too. After the 2004 election Democrats commissioned a poll in Ohio that found as many as a hundred and twenty nine voters got tired of waiting in the long lines in Cleveland and Columbus and elsewhere in Ohio.
A hundred and twenty nine thousand Ohio residents who wanted to vote but they couldn't afford to. They couldn't afford multiple hours to wait in line. That's ten thousand more votes than the margin by which Kerry lost that state and lost the election, giving Bush another four years.
It's one thing to worry about the vote being stolen. About whether or not our votes really get counted right. It's one thing to worry about partisan Republican efforts to purge voters off the rolls who rightfully belong there. Those things are worth worrying about. But the lines at voting places. There's no wondering about that. If you are confronted with a long line on election day, your country needs you to commit to stand in it. If you are an employer and your employees are late to work on Tuesday or have to leave early in order to vote, your country needs you to cut them some slack. If you're an elections official, your country needs you to have contingency plans to your contingency plans, and frankly probably a stockpile of paper ballots under lock and key to turn to if the lines are so long as to be disenfranchising. And if you are a politician, your country needs you to abolish this poll tax, to make the right to vote equally available to every American regardless of our ability to pay whether that payment is in cash, or in time. No matter who gets elected it is time to fix this election season, this election system once and for all. Too many people bled for this right for us to see it squandered.