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The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
No state can make people pay a tax as a condition of voting in any election for President, Senator or Representative.
Congress has the power to enforce this amendment by law.
|The Elimination of the Poll Tax||Important Cases|
|In the aftermath of the Civil War, three constitutional amendments were passed, the 13th Amendment, the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment. They were meant to remedy many of the injustices that had been wrought upon African Americans in the pre-war country. But these amendments, while significantly advancing the cause of civil rights, did not remedy every problem.One tool several southern states used to discriminate against their African American residents was the “poll tax.” Laws that put poll taxes into place required voters to pay fees in order to vote. As the black communities after the Civil War, especially in the southern states, were poorer than their white counterparts, these laws had the effect of disproportionately excluding African Americans from the voter rolls without violating any of the more express provisions of other constitutional amendments, like the 15th Amendment‘s prohibition against discriminating against a voter on the basis of race.|
Moreover, the Supreme Court held that these poll taxes were perfectly constitutional. For example, in Breedlove v. Suttles (1937), the Court considered whether poll taxes violated the Equal Protection Clause of the first section of the 14th Amendment. The Court found that a Georgia poll tax did not discriminate on the basis of race because, technically, it applied to both black and white citizens alike. Thus, it would take a constitutional change to render a poll tax unconstitutional.
That change came in the form of the 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, which states as follows:
The amendment is clear: poll taxes for federal elections are unconstitutional.
However, in the wake of the amendment, and during the impassioned civil rights era of the 1960s, the Supreme Court went further. As mentioned, the amendment only prohibited poll taxes for federal elections: for Presidents or Senators and the like. But state elections could still require poll taxes. Until the Supreme Court’s ruling in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966), which expressly rejected its decision in Breedlove. In Harper, the Court held poll taxes to be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the first section of the 14th Amendment as well. The Court was emphatic: “Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth.”
|Breedlove v. Suttles (1937)|
Harman v. Forssenius (1965)
Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966)