Poll Taxes and Voter IDs
The voter ID laws from Wisconsin and Texas are sure to reach the Supreme Court at some point, and so I’m trying to think through how the Twenty-Fourth Amendment (banning poll taxes in federal elections) might apply to these laws.
Let’s focus on folks who do not have an ID that a state considers valid. (Maybe the person is elderly, for example, and never obtained a driver’s license.) Suppose the state says that this person can get an ID for free, but to do so they have to go through some process. If that process were onerous, then I think it fair to conclude that this would impose a poll tax. The question is how burdensome is too burdensome. Is the standard that if somebody could not vote as a result, then there is a violation? Or do we judge this by some reasonableness standard?
One thing about the Twenty-Fourth Amendment that makes it different from other constitutional prohibitions is that it imposes a clear rule. A $1 poll tax is just as unconstitutional as a $500 poll tax. This may suggest that a conditional poll tax (in lieu of paying the fee for an ID, do this) should be assessed in a similar way black and white way. In other words, a balancing test is not appropriate in this context.
Of course, this analysis does not cover a situation where someone has an ID and just forgets to bring it to the polls. In that scenario, there is no poll tax and no constitutional violation–the issue falls under the Voting Rights Act.