Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

I Wish I Could Vote, But I Simply Can’t Afford To

Nov 03, 2011

It's high time we, the majority, take our country back:

When certain individuals began chanting their mantra of 'take our country back', the rest of us hoped that it wasn't a subliminal message to strip away this nation's advancements and take us back to some sort of Jim Crow era. But in such a short span of time in office, many conservative elected officials have proved that their goal is precisely to implement regressive measures that begin to chip away at the core of the fundamental constructs of the civil rights movement. The latest enactment of voter ID laws across the country are a prime example of how the right is attempting to wrong us all.

For those who like to pretend that racism never existed in our past, here's another quick reminder: years after slavery was abolished, there were systematic ways to still deny African Americans civil liberties - not the least of which was a poll tax. After the 14th Amendment guaranteed equal protection for all, a poll tax was enacted as a prerequisite to voting. Because African Americans (and poor Whites for that matter) found it difficult to come up with the money required to vote, many were covertly disenfranchised from the process. It was a new measure, but it held the same underlying notion of racism and oppression of an entire group of citizenry that slavery itself did.

Today, thankfully, a poll tax does not exist, but as Republican leaders continue to champion and implement voter ID requirements, they are establishing a new form of voting prerequisites and voter suppression. When nearly 25% of African Americans lack 'appropriate ID' in order to vote, it's clear who their target is. When college students are barred from voting in the state where they attend school and instead must return to their home state, it's clear who their target is. And when the process of obtaining this 'appropriate ID' isn't free by any measure, it's distinctly clear who their target is.

Imagine you're a hard-working American who holds two or three jobs just to put food on the table, and now you're required to take a day (or more) off in order to obtain an ID. Not only does this person accrue lost work wages, but he/she also has to factor in the cost of traveling to obtain the ID, as well as fees associated with getting copies of documents like passports or birth certificates. For the individual enduring such difficult times as so many Americans today are, is all the hassle and extra expenses going to be worth it in their eyes? Or will they simply say, I wish I could vote, but I simply can't afford it? And let's not forget the long enduring lines, procedures and bureaucracy that will likely arise for folks in the process of receiving ID cards. It may not be a poll tax, but these new voter ID laws are just a polished version of the same oppressive measures designed to keep people of color and the poor out of the electoral process.

There are currently 13 states across the country that have adopted voter ID requirements, with more pushing for similar legislation. When so many Americans do not possess a driver's license due to an inability to purchase a vehicle or because it's simply not necessary in an urban environment, the amount of Americans without valid ID for the polls is staggering. Once again, African Americans, Latinos, the poor and other disenfranchised groups will clearly be impacted the most by these voting requirements. And it should come as no surprise that this sector of society votes Democratic a majority of the time.

If Republican officials and those who support them are so upset by the direction of the country and so insistent on the fact that we are a center-right nation, why don't they prove it with fair elections? By conjuring up ridiculous requirements that are obviously designed to reduce the number of voters, they only validate the fact that their Party and their vision for the future is antiquated and the majority is not on their side. Instead of playing dirty politics, perhaps they should just run an election on the facts and allow everyone to freely vote. After all, what are they so afraid of?

Maybe it's high time we, the majority, take our country back.