Should Poor People be Allowed to Vote?

Recent proposed legislation concerning Voter IDs has led some critics to claim that such laws restrict the poor from voting. In an article in the Atlantic, this restriction on the voting rights of the poor is called a “hoary American tradition”:

In 2010, Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips observed that “The Founding Fathers … put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote … one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community.” In 2011, Iowa Representative Steve King made a similar observation, noting approvingly, “There was a time in American history when you had to be a male property owner in order to vote. The reason for that was, because [the Founding Fathers] wanted the people who voted—that set the public policy, that decided on the taxes and the spending—to have some skin in the game. Now we have data out there that shows that 47 percent of American households don’t pay taxes … But many of them are voting. And when they vote, they vote for more government benefits.” In 2012, Florida House candidate Ted Yoho remarked, “I’ve had some radical ideas about voting and it’s probably not a good time to tell them, but you used to have to be a property owner to vote.” Yoho went on to win the election.

It sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Telling poor people they can’t vote? But is that what Voter ID laws are all about? I thought it was about making sure that potential voters, rich or poor people, actually have the right to vote. The problem with Voter ID laws is the fact that the civil government stands to make more money off of them. That’s lame.

But don’t all ID laws fall into the same category? You could say that requiring someone to have an ID (or car insurance) before they drive unfairly restricts poor people from driving. Are you telling me that the requirements for driving should be less strenuous than the requirements for voting? Think about that. How can it be the case that you are not legally allowed to steer a car, but it’s perfectly legal for you to steer a country?

And honestly, it seems perfectly reasonable to stipulate that a person should be allowed to vote only if they pay taxes. Otherwise, poor people who don’t pay taxes could structure the government so that taxpayers give them money they never earned. Oh, wait. That’s what is happening. And this is a good thing because?