Yesterday, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that Arizona’s voter identification requirements are not unconstitutional in that the legislation does not constitute a poll tax (there is still an equal protection argument to be decided). Plaintiffs in this case, Purcell v. Gonzalez, had challenged Arizona’s Proposition 200, which requires voters to present proof of citizenship prior to voting (additional case information and documents can be found here). Plaintiffs had challenged this law based on claims that this law disparately impacted Latinos, as this group of voters would be less likely to possess the required form of identification; in effect, it has been claimed that this requirement allows only those with sufficient funds to obtain the required identification to vote.
As has been the case in most voter identification legislation, the primary justification for this law has been to prevent voter fraud. In the case of Arizona’s legislation, a stated concern has been the case of undocumented immigrants. However, litigation was commenced based on claims that this legislation was overbroad in that it not only prevented undocumented immigrants from voting, but also legal citizens unable to prove their citizenship. In finding that this law does not constitute a poll tax, the Court stated that, “In Arizona, ‘voters do not have to choose between paying a poll tax and providing proof of citizenship when they register to vote. They have only to provide the proof of citizenship.’”
However, it seems that voters in Arizona do not actually have a choice; although they are not explicitly required to pay a poll tax, they still must pay required fees to obtain the documents. While the fees for obtaining some of the documents (such as a copy of a birth certificate or driver’s license) may be low, there are certainly voters that cannot afford even these minimal expenses; such expenses may be even greater should the person requiring such document need to obtain the papers from outside the state. In addition to the monetary costs, the Court does not appear to take into consideration the inconveniences and time it takes to obtain these documents. In the case of Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, such inconveniences were explicitly raised by Plaintiffs; while these challenges may be different in Arizona, the fact is that such obstacles may prevent citizens to expend funds that they cannot afford. Overall, while such laws may not constitute explicit poll taxes, until affordable means in place to allow all citizens to obtain the required identification, such costs will prevent many eligible citizens from voting.