Tags: Voting Rights | voting rights | poll taxes | history

Voting Rights: A History of Poll Taxes

By    |   Wednesday, 30 December 2015 11:32 PM

When it comes to the history of voting rights, most people living in the U.S. today probably would have little or no recollection of poll taxes.

Dorothy Guilford remembered.

In an article on the Southern Poverty Law Center website, the 94-year old reflected on her time living in Montgomery, Alabama, during the time of the Jim Crow Laws. She explained that she “had to take a literacy test and pay a poll tax of $1.50, a sum worth about $25 today. Anyone who couldn’t ... pay the tax, which accumulated, couldn’t vote.”

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A poll tax, as defined by Study.com, is
“a tax assessed on an individual, usually as a condition of voting in an election.” Typically, poll taxes are not popular with the average citizen, as history of those countries using them has shown.

Yet, in the U.S., poll taxes and other limitations on voting existed for nearly 100 years from the time following the Civil War through the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, despite the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments, which gave African Americans the right to vote.

Poll taxes became popular in the South along with the Jim Crow Laws which, “separated people of color from whites in schools, housing, jobs, and public gathering places.”

They also separated them at the polls. Poll taxes “required citizens to pay a fee to register to vote. These fees kept many poor African Americans, as well as poor whites, from voting,” according to the National Museum of American History.

In addition to poll taxes, “The Jim Crow laws prevented black people from voting by imposing literacy tests ... property ownership requirements, moral character tests, document interpretation tests, and in some cases, the requirement that one’s grandfather had voted,” Study.com said.

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Poll taxes were technically eliminated by the 24th Amendment just prior to the Civil Rights Act. At the formal ceremony for the amendment, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that, “There can be no one too poor to vote,” according to the Library of Congress.

With memories like these still fresh in the minds of the African American community, it stands to reason that voting rights remain a sensitive and popular issue even today. Particularly, as a result of the 2013 Supreme Court decision of Shelby County v. Holder, voting rights are sure to be at the forefront of many political discussions heading into the 2016 presidential election.

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When it comes to the history of voting rights, most people living in the U.S. today probably would have little or no recollection of poll taxes.
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Wednesday, 30 December 2015 11:32 PM
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