The days of Jim Crow are officially over, but poll-tax equivalents are newly thriving, through restrictive voter registration and ID requirements, shorter poll hours and various other restrictions and red tape that cost Americans time and money if they wish to cast a ballot. As one study by a Harvard Law School researcher found, the price for obtaining a legally recognized voter identification card can range from $75 to $175, when you include the costs associated with documentation, travel and waiting time. (For context, the actual poll tax that the Supreme Court struck down in 1966 was just $1.50, or about $11 in today’s dollars.)
A hundred bucks just to vote? But doesn't the state pay for it? Sure, if you can go through the hardship process to prove you can't afford it, which of course takes months. The new poll taxes are certainly real enough to keep millions from voting, and that could have affected the 2014 elections:
In the meantime, some back-of-the-envelope calculations from Wendy Weiser — director of the Democracy Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice — should at least give us pause: Right now, it looks like the margin of victory in some of the most competitive races around the country was as big as the likely “margin of disenfranchisement,” as Weiser puts it. That is, more people were newly denied the right to vote than actually cast deciding ballots.
Let that sink in. More people were disenfranchised this year due to new Voter ID laws than the margin of victory for Senate and/or Governor's races in some states.
Take, for example, Kansas.
In the state’s nail-biting gubernatorial race, Republican incumbent Sam Brownback bested his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, by a mere 33,000 votes out of nearly 850,000 cast. Now, compare that with the estimated effects of Kansas’s new restrictions on voting.
We know that more than 21,000 people tried to register but failed because they lacked the necessary “documentary proof of citizenship” required by a new Kansas law. The state’s separate, strict voter ID law also had an effect: Applying findings from a recent Government Accountability Office reportthat examined how the voter ID law affected the state’s turnout in 2012, Weiser estimates that it probably reduced turnout this time around by about 17,000 votes.
38,000 votes disenfranchised. Davis beat Brownback by 33,000 votes.
Weiser finds similarly troubling results for close races in other states with restrictive voting laws, including North Carolina (where the U.S. Senate race was decided by about 47,000 votes, or 1.6 percentage points, in favor of the Republican candidate) and Florida (where the governor’s race was decided by about 66,000 votes, or 1.1 points, also in favor of the Republican).
Yes, 2014 turnout was low in blue states with no voter suppression laws. That doesn't mean that voter suppression laws in red states didn't have an effect in turnout in those states and the races in them.
And even more voter suppression laws go into effect for 2016.
Won't that be fun?