Some helpful context from TPM Reader ZH …
I’m glad you’re hitting on this again — I thought there was some important context missing from the debate over Holder’s “controversial” poll-tax remarks.
The poll tax in Alabama was $1.50; it was enacted in 1901. That’s about $40 today, or roughly what you’d have to pay me to spend a few hours getting myself to the DMV, standing in line and getting home to get a state ID. In 1949, seven states had poll taxes (poll taxes had been repealed in NC, LA, FL and GA by this point), all between $1 and $2 ($9-$18 today): See here.
So, when Holder calls voter ID laws a “poll tax” he’s not engaging in hyperbole at all. For the subset of citizens who have no use for a state-issued ID other than voting, it is basically equivalent to typical poll taxes in terms of the financial burden of becoming qualified to vote. For many, it’s actually a somewhat larger burden.
Lastly, defenses of poll taxes were identical to defenses of voter-ID laws today: See here: “the poll tax provision in the Constitution which they framed is the soundest safeguard for honest elections, and [they feel] that its removal would make Alabama subject to the same kind of machine politics found in the Northern cities where no poll tax provision exists.”
Change a few words and you can find Kris Kobach saying the same thing: “The pseudo-election of Al Franken is a case in point. The Minnesota Secretary of State played a pivotal role in the heist–manipulating the process to pacify a leftist mob. … We must enact a statute requiring photo ID to vote. But that is only the first step.”