Today's Republicans would never try to reinvent something so crude as the outlawed "poll tax," which mostly Southern states used, along with literacy tests, well into the 20th century to block voting by blacks, poor whites and Native Americans. Removal of these barriers firmly established every citizen's right under the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause and the beginning of widespread elections of minorities.
But wait. The modern GOP has come up with a new artifice: voter IDs to prevent citizens' showing up at the polls to commit fraud, even though voter fraud has never been a significant U.S. problem.
The most widespread fraud has been by election officials' rigging ballots and voting machines and denying voters a chance to exercise their rights by moving polling places unannounced or closing them early.
With large percentages of Democrat-voting low-income Americans, students and blacks without government-issued identification papers of any sort (21 million, according to the Brennan Center for Justice), the Republican laws are being branded the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century. Behind them is the business-financed American Legislative Exchange Council, which aims for slates of corporate-friendly, Republican elected state officials.
Republicans are sanctimonious. Ultraconservative Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback sniffed that his state's ID law is to "ensure the sanctity of the vote." Kansas has prosecuted one voter fraud case in six years. One estimate is that 620,000 Kansans lack government IDs to vote. Unleashed by an approval by the U.S. Supreme Court's conservative bloc of a 2008 Indiana voter ID law, 30 states are scrambling to impose ID laws (eight already have them). Idaho's is one of the least demanding. Voters without photo IDs can sign a "Personal Identification Affidavit" at the polling place.
In Wisconsin, student IDs issued by state universities are not accepted at the polls. Texas also rejects student IDs. Florida is shortening voting times, which would penalize working class minorities.
By creating obstacles to voting, Republican legislatures are crippling the national goal of increasing voter turnout.
This brazen strategy is clearly intended to hobble votes by citizens who usually vote Democratic and to increase and perpetuate Republicans in state offices. It seeks to control design of congressional districts to favor Republicans, exercise iron-fisted control over state budgets and enact policies that favor right-wing ideologies.
ID barriers do indeed help to "ensure the sanctity of the vote"—the Republican vote.