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A Birth Certificate Is a ‘Poll Tax,’ Congresswoman Says

WASHINGTON – Speaking out in opposition to voter identification laws, Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) said the cost of acquiring a birth certificate to obtain a government-issued photo ID is a “modern-day poll tax.”

As part of the Jim Crow laws, some states in the U.S. had implemented a “poll tax” that had to be paid in order to register to vote.

Sewell also said no one should be required to show a photo ID to vote because some people do not have one. She added that is “absurd” for Republicans to assume otherwise.

“How dare they think that everyone travels by plane, that everyone travels with a passport. It is unacceptable for us to sit back in silence because our vote is our voice and by making all these Americans jump through hoops, you know, I had one constituent who was 96 years old and was proud she voted in every election since she was registered to vote,” she said last month during an event on Capitol Hill with civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson sponsored by the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus.

Sewell, co-chair of the caucus, mentioned that an elderly woman who lives in her district does not have a birth certificate to show to obtain a government-issued ID.

“She is now wheelchair-bound and no longer drives and so therefore doesn’t have a validly issued photo ID. She was born by a midwife so she doesn’t have a birth certificate to show and prove who she is and the state of Alabama loves to say these non-driving photo IDs are free, but you know you have to actually have a birth certificate in order to get that photo ID and the birth certificate costs $25. So it’s a poll tax, a modern-day poll tax, and it is unacceptable for us who know better to sit back and be complicit,” she said.

Sewell said every American must have the opportunity to vote without showing a photo ID.

“Let me tell you something, we have to take advantage of that sacred fundamental right. Too many of us stay at home when the weather gets a little too bad, when we are feeling a little too tired, when the line is a little too long. We have to stay and persevere,” she said.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said “many seniors don’t have an ID but they have utility bills.”

He connected the House Democrats’ sit-in over gun control to voting rights.

“Congress is sitting in demanding the right to vote [on gun bills], not necessarily the right to win,” Jackson said at the event. “I hope state legislatures across the country will join them in every state to do the same thing.”

Sewell told PJM that voter fraud is not widespread and does not justify the need for photo ID laws that have been passed by some states.

“I think it is a fallacy that the reason why we have all these photo ID laws is because of fraud. You know, people love to talk about areas of my district being high fraud, but the reality is we talk about it – but when we look at the actual instances by which is the Justice Department have actually had cases and brought cases about fraud they’re minuscule, so it pales in comparison with the number of people you’re holding back from voting,” she said.