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Senator Chesterfield: “I Do Not Have a Constitutional Right To Buy Alcohol”

Updated: Apr 13

Last week, the Arkansas Senate passed a voter ID bill for the first time in history (it was considered before the House State Agencies Committee yesterday but has been tabled until a fiscal impact study can be done). During the Senate debate, Senator Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) took to the well to express her displeasure with the proposal. She said two things that were of particular interest.

First of all, Chesterfield said that “voter ID is a poll tax.” This is no real surprise — politicians that are against election reform have been using this line all over the country. The idea is that because some voters may be required to pay to obtain an ID (a fee of approximately $5), this is essentially a ‘tax’ on those exercising their constitutional rights.

I have a question for the senator: if a $5 voter ID is a poll tax, what is a $300 concealed carry permit fee? A safety tax? A life tax? Is supporting a (significant) fee on concealed carry permits racist, as she implies the supporters of voter ID are?

How is it any more racist to support voter ID than it is to support requiring IDs to board a plane, obtain a concealed carry permit, pick up prescriptions, buy lottery tickets, rent a library book — or even to purchase alcohol? (We’ll get to that in a minute.) Elections should be secure and fair so that the votes of every Arkansan count. That is real fairness and true justice that protects all citizens, regardless of race or creed.

Former Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, a civil rights pioneer, had something to say about the importance of fair elections:

I believe that honest elections are essential to the preservation of a democratic society, and that conduct which interferes with this process should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

After moving quickly on from her “poll tax” accusations, being constitutional scholar that she is, Senator Chesterfield said something really interesting:

There are those who say you have to show a voter ID in order to buy alcohol and I submit to you: I don’t have a constitutional right to buy alcohol.

Well, I submit to you the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th Amendment. What did the 18th Amendment do? Well, it outlawed the sale of alcohol:

After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

So, while I’m no constitutional scholar, it sure seems we do in fact have a constitutional right to purchase alcohol — and I’m sure Hudson “Vodka for Votes” Hallum agrees. And as AAI’s Dan Greenberg told the House committee yesterday, the state requires IDs to exercise all sorts of constitutionally protected activities such as petitioning the government, getting married, and yes, purchasing alcohol. (Greenberg has pursued the argument from a different angle, noting that the people’s right to purchase food and drink from restaurants was a huge civil rights fight in the 1960s.) But far be it from me to muddy up the debate on voter ID with facts.

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