The Persistence of Unconstitutional Poll Taxes

August 6th 2019

 
President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Constitutional Amendment on the Poll Tax (Cecil W. Stoughton,  Wikimedia Commons )

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Constitutional Amendment on the Poll Tax (Cecil W. Stoughton, Wikimedia Commons)

By Sue Sturgis

Facing South

Year in which Southern states began imposing poll taxes that had to be paid in order to vote as a way to keep African Americans from participating in elections: 1870s

Year in which the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified prohibiting poll taxes: 1964

Year in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in a landmark case out of Virginia, held that the use of poll taxes in state elections violated the 14th Amendment and that wealth shouldn't be a factor in determining a person's ability to vote: 1966

Number of states that today still disenfranchise citizens based on wealth, with people of color disproportionately affected: 30

Number that explicitly condition restoration of voting rights to the formerly incarcerated on the payment of fines and fees: 8*

Number that do so implicitly: 20**

Number of states that permanently disenfranchise convicted individuals and require payment of fines and fees for clemency eligibility: 2***

Of the U.S. population disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, portion that's no longer incarcerated but living in a state that could deny voting rights based on ability to pay legal debt: over 1/2

Year in which Florida voters approved Amendment 4 to the state constitution, which automatically restores voting rights to people with prior convictions for most felonies upon completion of prison, parole, and probation: 2018

Date on which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed into law a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature requiring convicted felons to fully pay any restitution, fines, fees, or other costs resulting from the conviction:6/28/2019

Amount in outstanding fees and fines owed by Bonnie Raysor of Boynton Beach, Florida, related to a drug conviction stemming from opioid addiction — an amount she's unable to pay, leaving her unable to register to vote: $4,260

Phone number Floridians can call to get in touch with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and find help in removing financial barriers to registering to vote: 407-901-3749

Aside from abolishing felony disenfranchisement altogether, rank of restoring voting rights automatically upon release from prison as the most effective way states can ensure the ability to pay doesn't preclude the ability to vote: 1

* Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Washington.
** Alaska, California, Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
*** Iowa and Kentucky.

(Click on figure to go to source. Many of the numbers in this index come from the recent report "Can't Pay, Can't Vote: A National Survey on the Modern Poll Tax"from the Campaign Legal Center and Georgetown Law's Civil Rights Clinic.)

Posted with permission