Election officers in states with newly approved voter ID laws are trying to make sure voters can meet the new requirements without much hassle, pushing back on complaints that the laws are tantamount to a “poll tax.”
Seven states this year have approved new laws requiring or urging voters to show photo ID before casting their ballots. Critics have assailed these measures as a partisan Republican scheme to skew elections by disenfranchising voters who might be inclined to vote for Democrats but lack the proper identification.
But officials in those states say the criticism is unfair. All seven states are moving to offer residents at least one version of a photo ID card free of charge. Local agencies are planning various outreach efforts to get the word out about the new requirements, and the new laws generally allow voters without photo ID to fill out a provisional ballot under certain circumstances.
In Tennessee, one of the seven states, officials are going to be offering free photo IDs at local DMV offices — for voting purposes, not driving.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of outreach … to educate people about the law,” said Blake Fontenay, spokesman with the Tennessee Department of State. “We don’t feel that it’s fair to call this a poll tax when a person can get an ID free of charge.”
Among those comparing the provision to a poll tax are the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who used the term last week in discussing the South Carolina law. Former President Bill Clinton also said recently that Republican voting proposals across the country are some of the most restrictive in history since the poll tax and “all the other Jim Crow burdens.”
In addition, a local South Carolina activist reportedly described the law as an alternative to “hoods and Klan meetings” at a forum Monday sponsored by the NAACP. The Democratic Governors Association has described voter ID and other GOP-backed proposals as “voter suppression bills.”
But the states involved dispute those characterizations.