Guest Column: The new poll tax in the United States

By Sterling E. Blackmon, Ph.D.

Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo ID, but student IDs would not,” Eric Holder said. “Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.”

I wanted to know how much validity could be attributed to the claims that requiring a person to have ID to vote is related to their ability to vote in the post-Obama election era and was tantamount to a poll tax.

As a researcher, I know that experimentation is the only true measure to prove or disprove any hypothesis. In my research, I used a member of my family who voted in Illinois for President Barack Obama in 2008. She already had a voter ID card, state ID from Arkansas and is elderly; she was born July 4, 1935.

My first experiment was to go to the Secretary of State office in Rockford to see what would be needed to get her an Illinois State Identification Card. This was a result of her trying to open a checking account. The bank manager said Illinois requires a person to have an Illinois driver’s license or ID to open a checking account.

The requirements for a first-time Illinois driver’s license/ID card are documents that satisfy one each of Group A, B and C and two documents that satisfy Group D (Illinois Secretary of State, 2012).

For Group A, we had the current state ID from Arkansas with the signature. Group B and C was a Social Security award letter. Group D was an insurance policy and a utility bill.

The clerk would not accept the Social Security letter for both Groups B and C, and said we would need the birth certificate to obtain an Illinois ID card.

This concluded my first experiment. The birth certificate requirement to obtain a photo identification card was one that most, if not all, people who are in states that have passed or are attempting to pass voter ID laws was congruent.

My next experiment was to go to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), which is charged with maintaining Arkansas Vital Records birth records dating from Feb. 1, 1914, through the present. There are a limited number of birth records available prior to 1914. Those records were filed with Arkansas Vital Records after 1914. They also have original copies of some Little Rock and Fort Smith births dating from 1881 (Arkansas Department of Health, 2012).

The Arkansas Department of Health has an online capability to order vital records, so I pursued that avenue first. Arkansas Vital Records does not accept credit cards or online orders; however, for convenience, you can process online requests through an independent company that they have partnered with to provide you this service. An additional fee is charged by this company for using their service, and all major credit cards are accepted (Arkansas Department of Health, 2012). The “Express Service” fee and the original “search fee” are non-refundable, if the record is not found. This was the first poll tax, in my opinion. UPS shipping is also available for an additional shipping fee.

I received a letter from the Arkansas Department of Health while trying to obtain the birth certificate. The letter was notification that the information provided did not yield a person with that name in the county I was inquiring about, nor did they find anyone with that name with different spellings, locations and several years before and after the year of birth.

The two options since they were not able to locate the birth certificate were: request the certificate again using different names, a different mother’s maiden name, a different county (I used Ouachita), and/or birth dates. The new search required another non-refundable search fee — in my opinion, another poll tax. The second option was to start the process to file (create) a Delayed Birth Certificate. This process required several documents with some having to be more than 10 years old.

I requested another birth certificate online using the same information but substituted Nevada County this time, yielding the same results. It was at this time I pursued the next phase of my research, the Delayed Birth Certificate process.

The Delayed Birth Certificate process in Arkansas requires the following: a minimum of three documents, several of which must be at least 10 year old: 1. Full Social Security Numident printout.; 2. Hospital birth record; 3. Census record (federal or local); 4. Church record; 5. School entrance record; 6. Insurance policy; 7. Immunization record; 8. Employment record; 9. Military service record (DD 214); 10. Voter’s registration record; 11. Your child’s birth certificate showing you as the parent, your age and birthplace.; and/or 12. Your marriage certificate.

Since she was born in 1935, in the South, and improvised, the birth was the result of a mid-wife; no records existed other than an entry in an old Bible. So, the first task was to obtain documents that were 10 years old or later.

The Numident Printout was the most critical part, since it showed the birth place, parent’s name and history of the subject.

I sent for this using the form provided in the instructions from ADH and waited the required six to eight weeks from the Social Security Administration (SSA) FOIA area. Twelve weeks later, I was still waiting. I called the number for the SSA FOIA several times, and left messages and did not receive a call back. It wasn’t until I threatened to contact their superiors that I received the Numident Printout from the SSA FOIA. This, in my opinion, was another poll tax, since I had to send the form UPS to ensure I had a tracking number. I never received a call as to why it took so long, just the copy of the Numident Printout.

I used her daughter’s birth certificate, the subject’s voter registration card, the subject’s 10 years old insurance policy and the subject’s Numident Printout and sent them via UPS to the ADH with the application for the Delayed Birth Certificate and waited another six to eight weeks, as required. That took care of the required documents. Twelve weeks later, I still had not heard anything. I then began to call and leave messages to the ADH. It was not until I left a message and threatened to go to their superiors that I received a call back. First, from a supervisor in the area, then some clerk, and finally a very pleasant woman who left me a very pleasant message and said they were working on it.

I waited another four weeks, and still nothing. Then, I called and threatened them again, and got a call back the next day. This time, the woman said they could not locate the documents I sent. Since I had sent them UPS, I had the tracking information, and told her, “Let us work this backwards.” I would give her the name of the person who signed for them, and she could look on her end. It took her five minutes to find them after I had given her the person’s name. The next day, on a weekend, by the way, a supervisor from the ADH called and left me a voicemail and said she was printing and sending the Delayed Birth Certificate out that day. I got it Monday by noon via FedEx.

Now that I had the birth certificate and all the other required documents, I went to the Illinois drivers’ license office I had originally begun this story with and, ironically, to the same clerk who had turned me around several months prior. We presented the same documents as before, but this time with the birth certificate, and she processed the request and gave my subject her new Illinois State ID. We then went to the bank and opened her checking account. Some would say if we hadn’t had to open the checking account, we may never have had to get the picture ID.

My opinion is this: in states where the new voter ID laws are in effect, it will be very difficult for the elderly and, for that fact, anyone, to obtain the picture ID. These are people who have served their country, voted for decades and paid taxes as well.

For this country to allow this “scorched earth” policy because of partisan rhetoric is reprehensible. People have fought and died for the right to vote in this country, and we pride ourselves on our willingness to play fair and by the rules, but the bureaucratic machine that is in place to discourage people from obtaining the picture ID is so inefficient that I fear millions of people will be disenfranchised in the process. And honestly, does that not appear to be the end game?

Rockford resident Sterling E. Blackmon earned a Ph.D. at Capella University, has an MBA in finance from LeTourneau University and a bachelor’s degree from Wiley College. He is employed as an IT professional with Health Care Service Corporation and is an adjunct instructor with Olivet Nazarene University.

From the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2012, issue

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