Written By: Ishton W. Morton – August 29th, 2020
Many are extremely disturbed by Alex Triantafilou, a member of Hamilton County Board of Elections who had this to say, “And now one can vote early for no reason.”
Although often associated with states of the former Confederate States of America, poll taxes were also in place in some northern and western states, Including California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin. A poll tax is a tax as a fixed sum on every liable individual.
The academia are proclaiming Poll taxes had been a major source of government funding among the colonies which formed the United States.
They have argued then poll taxes made up from one-third to one-half of the tax revenue of colonial Massachusetts. Various privileges of citizenship, including voter registration or issuance of driving licenses and resident hunting and fishing licenses, were conditioned on payment of poll taxes to encourage the collection of this tax revenue.
Property taxes assumed a larger share of tax revenues as land values rose when population increases encouraged settlement of the American West.
Some western states found no need for poll tax requirements; but poll taxes and payment incentives remained in eastern states, and some links to voter registration were modified following the American Civil War until court action following ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964.
Payment of a poll tax was a prerequisite to the registration for voting in a number of states until 1965. The tax emerged in some states of the United States in the late nineteenth century as part of the Jim Crow laws.
After the right to vote was extended to all races by the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a number of states enacted poll tax laws as a device for restricting voting rights.
The laws often included a grandfather clause, which allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax.
These laws, along with extreme unfairly implemented literacy tests and extra-legal intimidation, were designed to achieved the desired effect of disenfranchising African-American and Native American voters, and sometimes as well as poor whites.
Proof of payment of a poll tax was a prerequisite to voter registration in Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia (1877), North and South Carolina, Virginia (until 1882 and again from 1902 with its new constitution) and Texas (1902).
The Texas poll tax “required otherwise eligible voters to pay between $1.50 and $1.75 to register to vote a lot of money at the time, and a big barrier to the working classes and poor.”
It was more problematic to achieve eligibility that to be otherwise eligible to vote. This process disproportionately affected Blacks.
Accordingly in 1877 Georgia created a cumulative poll tax requiring men of any race 21 to 60 years of age to pay a sum of money for every year from the time they had turned 21, or from the time that the law was made effective.
There are those who believed that poll tax requirements were made applicable to whites as well as Blacks, and adversely affected poor citizens. The laws that allowed the poll tax did not specify a certain group of people.
This meant that anyone, including white women, could also be discriminated against when they went to vote. One example is in Alabama where white women were discriminated against and then organized to secure their right to vote. One group of women that did this was Women’s Joint Legislative Council of Alabama (WJLC).
Also, African American women organized in groups against being denied voting rights. In particular, one African American woman sued the county with the help of the NAACP. She sued for her right to vote as she was stopped from even registering to vote. As a result of her suing the county the mailman did not deliver her mail for quite some time.
Many states required payment of the tax at a time separate from the election, and then required voters to bring receipts with them to the polls. If they could not locate such receipts, they could not vote. In addition, many states surrounded registration and voting with complex record-keeping requirements.
These were particularly difficult for sharecropper and tenant farmers to comply with, as they moved frequently.
The poll tax was sometimes used alone or together with a literacy qualification. In a kind of grandfather clause, North Carolina in 1900 exempted from the poll tax those men entitled to vote as of Tuesday, January 1st, 1867. However, again, this process excluded all Blacks, who did not then have suffrage.
Supportively to this argument, 1937, in the case Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277 (1937), the United States Supreme Court up-held that argument and found that a prerequisite that poll taxes be paid for registration to vote was constitutional. The case involved the Georgia poll tax of $1 (equivalent to $18 in 2019). Georgia abolished its poll tax in 1945. Florida repealed its poll tax in 1937.
It was not until the 1964 ratification of 24th Amendment that abolished the use of the poll tax (or any other tax) as a pre-condition for voting in federal elections, but made no mention of poll taxes in state elections.
In the 1966 case of Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Supreme Court reversed its decision in Breedlove v. Suttles to also include state elections as violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Harper ruling was one of several that relied on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment rather than the more direct provision of the 15th Amendment. In a two-month period in the spring of 1966, Federal courts declared unconstitutional poll tax laws in the last four states that still had them, starting with Texas on Wednesday February 9th, February 1966. Decisions followed for Alabama Thursday, March 3rd, 1966) and Virginia Friday, March 25th,1966.
Today Mississippi‘s $2.00 poll tax is the equivalent to $16.00 and it was the last to fall as it was declared unconstitutional on Friday, April 8th, 1966 by a federal panel.
Also, review Virginia’s attempt to partially abolish its poll tax by requiring a residence certification. However, the Supreme Court quickly rejected that arrangement in 1965 in Harman v. Forssenius.
Subsequently, by their very nature, poll taxes are considered very regressive and disruptive taxes usually very unpopular and have been implicated in many uprisings.
Today August 29th, 2020 we are still struggling with elements of poll tax and Jim Crow laws. Any process given or designed to be disruptive to voting process can be easily construed as a poll tax.
With approximately 66 days, 00 hours, 27 minutes, 17 seconds before Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020 US Presidential Election we are engaged in warfare over votes and voting by mail ballot applications in Ohio as well as across the country.
It must be understood. The first step involves checking to make sure your registration status is good. If one is not registered, there’s still time. The deadline to register is Monday October 5th, 2020.
Accordingly, sometime after Labor Day, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose will mail ballot applications to all of Ohio’s eight million registered voters.
As the job of processing the many thousands of applications the Hamilton County Board of Elections receives each week unfolds, there’s a lot on the minds of the average voter.
According to Jeremy Jimmar, the Elections Administrator with Hamilton County Board of Elections; “starting Tuesday October 6th, 2020 we’ll be mailing the ballots out to the voters, and that a generate.”