Twenty-four members of the Ohio House of Representatives — all Republicans — cosponsored a bill introduced last week that would require many Ohio residents to pay an actual poll tax in order to vote. Poll taxes are forbidden by the Constitution.
Under this legislation, many voters would have to pay a fee in order to obtain an ID card that they need to vote, thus effectively imposing a tax on the right to vote.
The poll tax is tucked into a voter ID bill, another common form of legislation that prevents many Americans from casting a ballot. Though voter ID’s proponents claim they are necessary to combat voter fraud at the polls, such fraud is virtually nonexistent. A report released by Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State John Husted’s office found that 0.002397 percent of votes cast in the 2012 election were the product of fraud. A similar report by Iowa’s Republican former Secretary of State Matt Schultz uncovered exactly zero cases of fraud that would have been prevented by a voter ID law.
Voter ID laws do, however, disproportionately target young voters, low-income voters and people of color — all of whom tend to prefer Democrats over Republicans. In 2012, former New York Times numbers guru Nate Silver predicted that a voter ID law could “reduce President Obama’s margin against Mitt Romney by a net of 1.2 percentage points.”
Though the bill permits voters who lack ID to obtain a special voter ID card issued by the state, this card costs $8.50. One provision of the bill does permit voters to be exempted from this fee if their income “does not exceed one hundred per cent of the federal poverty guidelines,” but that’s an annual income of only $11,770 a year for a single person in 2015.
The Constitution does not permit anyone to be charged any fee as a condition on their right to vote. As the Supreme Court explained in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, “a State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard.” So if megabillionaire Bill Gates were charged a single penny before he could vote, that would still be an unconstitutional poll tax.
Indeed, the plurality opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the Court’s 2008 opinion permitting Indiana’s voter ID law, strongly suggests that a voter ID law coupled with a mandatory fee is unconstitutional. “The fact that most voters already possess a valid driver’s license, or some other form of acceptable identification, would not save the statute under our reasoning in Harper,” the plurality explained, “if the State required voters to pay a tax or a fee to obtain a new photo identification.”