Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My Man Mitch's Indirect Poll Tax

Mr. Torporific at Torpor Indy has juxtaposed two separate facts, the Gary BMV closing and the new voter ID laws, to raise an interesting point about the possibility of voter suppression and discrimination.

Ahh, the questions. Did the Republicans push the law in order to suppress poor votes? Is Joel Silverman closing branches in a way that is more politically effective than it is fiscally efficient? Is the Gary closing connected to the fact that Lake County voted for Democrats in 20 out of the 22 election categories in 2004?

The short answer is that I do not know.

The long answer is that the branch closings have affected Democrat-leaning counties only marginally more in nominal terms than Republican-leaning counties (although Dem counties have been affected in greater proportion). But with the election results not conclusively tied to the branch closings, I cannot assert that the closings on the whole are a means of voter discrimination or political retribution. And as to the political intent behind the voter ID law…I do not pretend to understand the random and disjointed reasoning behind legislative acts, and I will not start guessing now.

But what I will do is assert that there is an effect (intended or not) of the conjunction of these two acts of government.

It is an indirect poll tax.

Here is an example: Imagine that Joe Shmoe lives in the city of Gary and has voted regularly for 30 years. However, he does not have a drivers’ license, so he must get valid ID in order to vote in upcoming elections. Joe works bankers’ hours and makes $13.18 per hour, which is the median wage in Gary. To make it to the BMV while it is open, he must take ½ day off of work, which costs him $52.72 in lost wages.

Since Joe does not have a drivers’ license, he also does not have a car. The nearest branch (now that the Gary branch has closed) is 7.13 miles from downtown Gary. None of Joe’s friends can drive him because they all work between the hours of 8:30 and 4:00, so he has to take a taxicab at $2 per mile ($28.52 round-trip). Once he gets there, he must pay a $14.00 fee for the issuance of a new ID card.

This leaves Joe with a grand total of $95.24 in expenses just to be able to vote, which he had been doing for free for 30 years.

It is easy to pretend that getting an ID card is not a big deal. But imagine a person standing outside the voting booth demanding $95 before you could enter. Or $50. Or $25. Or imagine that the BMV traveled to you. How many people would turn away if asked to pay $14 to vote? And how many of those turned away would have been there to vote in favor of repealing the estate tax and cutting Medicaid?

This poll tax, as I have labeled it, can be attributable to both government acts. $14 of it is attributable to the voter ID act, and the remaining $81 is attributable to the fact that Joe Shmoe can no longer walk to the local license branch on his lunch break.

I refuse to pass judgment as to the motivation behind the voter ID act or the BMV closings. But if the Daniels administration and the General Assembly fail to address this indirect poll tax in the next legislative session, I will certainly pass judgment then.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just wanted to point out that under the voter ID law anyone can receive a State ID card free of charge and use that ID to vote.

9:51 AM  
Blogger J. James Mooney said...

I'm wondering if the person above me actually read your piece or just don't understand the concept of opportunity cost.

Regardless, this is a very similar concept to the problems going on in georgia (except with fewer minorities I suspect).

I addressed this issue yesterday, but for the most part agree with you. Voting need to be like getting the ideal shot, painless, quick, and free.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Jezebella said...

Ok, I didn't know about that clause in the act. Mr. Mooney is correct...the $81 opportunity cost still persists.

10:51 AM  

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