Arizona laws that require would-be voters to produce documents proving they are U.S. citizens don’t amount to an unconstitutional poll tax, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge Roslyn Silver rejected various contentions of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund that the requirements of a 2004 voter-approved measure are discriminatory or unconstitutional.
The laws require proof of citizenship to register and presentation of certain forms of identification to cast a ballot.
“Only citizens may vote,” Silver wrote. “Requiring an individual to present proof of citizenship allows the state to determine if that individual is qualified to vote.”
But the ruling, made available Wednesday, does not end the legal challenge. MALDEF still is entitled to pursue two other claims at trial, including one that the measure is illegal because it disproportionately depresses Hispanic voting strength.
But Silver, in the new ruling, found nine of MALDEF’s contentions so lacking in merit that she agreed with attorneys for the state that those contentions should be thrown out even before a trial.
Nina Perales, MALDEF’s regional counsel, said she believes a federal appeals court will conclude otherwise.
Perales is not contesting laws requiring people to be citizens to register. Instead she contends the requirements to produce certain kinds of documents is illegal.
That led to the argument that the ID requirement amounts to an unconstitutional “poll tax,” as people would need to purchase certain documents to vote. She said that issue crosses ethnic lines because anyone who is poor and does not have a driver’s license — one of the acceptable documents — would be denied the right to vote.
But Silver said the requirement does not rise to the level of a fee to vote, which would be illegal.
The judge also rejected the argument that the requirement to show ID at the polls illegally creates two classes of people because there is no similar mandate for those who decide to vote early by mail.
But Silver said there is nothing illegal about Arizona setting up different practices and procedures for different types of voting.
Still unresolved is Perales’ argument that the requirement violates the federal Voting Rights Act which bans states from enacting regulations that disproportionately discriminate against minorities, even if that is not the intent of the law. She said Hispanics are less likely to have the kinds of documents necessary to register and vote.
Perales also contends the law unconstitutionally discriminates against naturalized citizens. She said while they are presumed equal under the law, only those who are naturalized have to produce certain documents in person showing they have become citizens.
MALDEF mounted a separate legal challenge to Proposition 200 shortly after the 2004 election, seeking to overturn another provision which denies certain public benefits to illegal immigrants. But a federal appeals court tossed the case, saying there was no evidence that anyone legally entitled to those benefits was in danger of being prosecuted for breaking the law.