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Amendment XXIV – Poll Tax (1964)

The XXIV amendment states:

“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 any poll tax or other tax.”

The Twenty fourth amendment prohibits both Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll tax or other types of tax.  A poll tax was enacted in eleven Southern states to prevent African Americans, Native Americans and white people of non-British descent from voter registration and voting. 

In order to remove the poll tax obstacle and to provide a more direct approach for people to participate in government, Congress ratified the Twenty fourth amendment.  At the time of ratification, only five states still retained a poll tax: Alabama, Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas.  However, in Harper v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 667 (U.S. 1966), the Supreme Court held that the poll tax violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The court held that a State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of a voter or payment of any fee, an electoral standard.  Thereafter, all state poll taxes for both state and federal elections were officially declared unconstitutional.

In Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528, 541 (U.S. 1965),  the US Supreme Court struck down a Virginia statute which eliminated the poll tax as an absolute qualification for voting in federal elections and gave federal voters the choice either of paying the tax or of filing a certificate of residence six months before the election.  The court held that the Twenty-fourth Amendment does not merely insure that the right to vote shall not be “denied” by reason of failure to pay the poll tax; it expressly guarantees that the right to vote shall not be “denied or abridged” for that reason. 

In a recent case, Stewart v. Marion County, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84817 (S.D. Ind. Oct. 21, 2008), the voter ID law was challenged because it improperly added qualification to the constitutional right to vote.  The Indiana Voter ID Law required citizens voting in-person at polling places on Election Day to present election officials with valid photo identification issued by the United States or the State of Indiana.  The court held that the Indiana Voter ID law protects electoral process from fraudulent voting and the Voter ID law is not considered a poll tax under the Twenty fourth amendment.

Inside Amendment XXIV – Poll Tax (1964)