Black Voices

Rick Perry Says Eric Holder 'Poll Tax' Comments Aimed To 'Incite Racial Tension,' Asks For Obama Apology

Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that Attorney General Eric Holder's remarks last week calling his state's voter ID laws "poll taxes" were an attempt to incite racial tension and called on President Barack Obama to repudiate them.

"In labeling the Texas voter ID law as a 'poll tax,' Eric Holder purposefully used language designed to inflame passions and incite racial tension," Perry wrote in a statement. "It was not only inappropriate, but simply incorrect on its face."

The Republican governor called the law "common sense" and said the president should apologize for Holder's insulting comments.

Holder made the comments last week during the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's annual conference in Houston. The attorney general 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," Holder had said to applause. The "poll tax" part of his comments were not part of his original script.

Perry's statement comes just days after closing arguments in a federal case that will determine whether the Lone Star State's new voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act.

In the Jim Crow South, poll taxes were one tactic commonly used to keep blacks from voting. Towns would arbitrarily impose taxes on people pursuing their right to vote. By 1904, every former Confederate state had put in place some form of poll tax. Coupled with literacy tests, which disqualified black voters for a single wrong answer but did not penalize whites, poll taxes were part of a system of widespread disenfranchisement in the South.

Practices like these prompted civil rights groups to push for the Voting Rights Act, which prevented states from placing onerous burdens on citizens pursuing their right to vote. As part of the act, certain states and jurisdictions that were deemed to have a history of disenfranchising voters must obtain federal approval from the Justice Department before making changes to their election rules.

In recent years, Republican-led legislatures across the country have passed voter ID laws, which require voters to show official identification at the polls. Proponents of the laws say they prevent election fraud.

But critics point out that election fraud is exceedingly rare and that such laws may have the result of turning away thousands of people who are otherwise eligible to vote. "The impact of ID requirements is even greater for the elderly, students, people with disabilities, low-income individuals, and people of color," according to a report for the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan voting rights institute at New York University.

Members of those groups, particularly blacks, Hispanics and college students, tend to vote for Democrats.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that that N.A.A.C.P.'s annual convention was held in New Orleans. It was held in Houston.