Students will become more familiar with the 24th amendment. Students will read a given article and while they read, the students will fill out the task sheet.
Students will read one of the following articles. The teacher will give you a number and you will read the article. Use the task sheet to answer questions about your article.
The Return of the Poll Tax in Florida
A Republican proposal would condition the right to vote on the payment of all outstanding court fines and fees.
Florida voters approved a ballot measure in November to restore voting rights to up to 1.4 million people with felony convictions who have served their sentences and thus paid their debt to society. The passage of Amendment 4, which went into effect in January, righted 150 years of injustice.
But Republican lawmakers in the state immediately went to work to undermine that progress. On March 19, a state House panel on criminal justice approved, along party lines, a measure that would erect new roadblocks for the Floridians who just regained the right to vote.
The new proposal would require those who want their voting rights restored to first pay all outstanding court fees and costs arising from their prior convictions — a move that one Democratic lawmaker denounced as an unconstitutional poll tax.
Under Amendment 4, “any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.”
But Florida Republicans want “completion” of a sentence to include “a financial obligation arising from a felony conviction” — such as the court costs and fines that Florida is notorious for imposing on top of criminal sentences. This would, in effect, suppress the votes of people who are too poor to pay.
Supporters of restoring voting rights to citizens with felony convictions agree that court-imposed restitution should be paid if that’s what a given sentence calls for. But they argue that the punitive administrative fees that Florida and other states impose on citizens should not deny anyone the right to vote.
For Desmond Meade and Neil Volz, the co-leaders of the grass-roots group that helped advance Amendment 4 — supported by nearly 65 percent of voters — the new bill is an affront to the electorate. “Because we know how disempowering it is to not have a voice in our community and how sacred getting that voice back is,” they wrote in The Tampa Bay Times this week.
“Putting a price on restoring civil rights is unconstitutional and wrong,” said Andrew Gillum, the former Democratic candidate for governor who just announced an initiative to register and mobilize voters. “Last year, Floridians overwhelmingly passed the largest expansion of the right to vote since the Voting Rights Act. The lawmakers who are trying to impede the will of the voters need to get out of the way — and if they don’t, Floridians will show them the consequences.”
ABOLITION OF THE POLL TAX
SECTIONS 1 AND 2 .
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 Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
EXPANSION OF THE RIGHT TO VOTE
Ratification of the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1964 marked the culmination of an endeavor begun in Congress in 1939 to eliminate the poll tax as a qualification for voting in federal elections. Property qualifications extend back to colonial days, but the poll tax itself as a qualification was instituted in eleven states of the South following the end of Reconstruction, although at the time of the ratification of this Amendment only five states still retained it.1 Congress viewed the qualification as “an obstacle to the proper exercise of a citizen’s franchise” and expected its removal to “provide a more direct approach to participation by more of the people in their government.” Congress similarly thought that a constitutional amendment was necessary,2 because the qualifications had previously survived constitutional challenges on several grounds.3
Not long after ratification of the Amendment—applicable only to federal elections—Congress by statute authorized the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief against use of the poll tax as a means of racial discrimination in state elections,4 and the Supreme Court held that the poll tax discriminated on the basis of wealth in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.5
In Harman v. Forssenius,6 the Court struck down a Virginia statute that 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. Viewing the latter requirement as imposing upon voters in federal elections an onerous requirement that was not imposed on those who continued to pay the tax, the Court unanimously held the law to conflict with the new Amendment by penalizing those who chose to exercise a right guaranteed them by the Amendment.
Poll tax, in English history, a tax of a uniform amount levied on each individual, or “head.” Of the poll taxes in English history, the most famous was the one levied in 1380, a main cause of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, led by Wat Tyler. In the United States, most discussion of the poll tax has centred on its use as a mechanism of voter suppression directed originally at African Americans, especially in Southern states.
A poll tax sign in Mineola, Texas, 1939.
Russell Lee, FSA/OWI Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (reproduction no. -USF33- 011961-M2)
The origin of the tax in the United States is associated with the agrarian unrest of the 1880s and ’90s, which culminated in the rise of the Populist Party in the West and the South. The Populists, a low-income farmers’ party, gave the Democrats in these areas the only serious competition that they had experienced since the end of Reconstruction. The intensity of competition led both parties to bring blacks back into politics and to compete for their vote. Once the Populists had been defeated, the Democrats amended their state constitutions or drafted new ones to include various disfranchising devices. When payment of the poll tax was made a prerequisite to voting, impoverished blacks and often poor whites, unable to afford the tax, were denied the right to vote.
Poll taxes of varying stipulations lingered in Southern states into the 20th century. Some states abolished the tax in the years after World War I, while others retained it. Its use was declared unconstitutional in federal elections by the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, effective in 1964. In 1966 the U.S. Supreme Court, going beyond the Twenty-fourth Amendment, ruled in Harper v. Virginia Board of Electors that under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, states could not levy a poll tax as a prerequisite for voting in state and local elections.
- What article did you get assigned?
- What was your article about?
- What are the events that relate to poll taxes in your article?
How did that article make you feel about poll taxes?
Did you learn anything about poll taxes that you didn't know before?