The Return of Poll Taxes

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The return of poll taxes

Poll taxes prevented African Americans from voting till the 24th Amendment made the taxes illegal. New Republican bills bring back poll taxes disguised as new costs voters have to pay before they can vote.

These new poll taxes target poor voters. They cannot afford to wait in long lines and lose wages nor have the time or money to complete new requirements to register to voter or get an absentee ballot. Poll taxes may look different, but the intent is the same. Make it harder for the poor to vote by raising the price of voting.

These poll taxes raise the cost of voting by increasing the distance voters have to travel, effortexpense and time (D.E.E.T.) they have to spend to vote. Republicans aggravate the problem at the same time by restricting drop boxes and absentee ballots which would make it easier to vote. They reduce the number of polling places which create long voting lines.

New voter suppression measures raise the cost of voting by increasing the distance, effort, expense and time voters have to pay.

Poll taxes

“Poll taxes were essentially a voting fee in the 1890s as a way to keep African Americans from voting in southern states, Eligible voters were required to pay their poll tax before they could cast a ballot. In 1964 the Twenty-Fourth amendment prohibited the use of poll taxes for federal elections. Five states enforced payment of poll taxes for state elections until 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional.” – American History

Abolition of Poll Taxes: 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.” – Interactive Constitution

Southern States used poll taxes  to keep African Americans from voting. Eligible voters were required to pay their poll tax before they could cast a ballot.


Georgia’s SB 202 voter suppression bill

“Georgia’s new voting law, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday night, is a small-d democrat’s nightmare. The bill, known as SB 202, gives state-level officials the authority to usurp the powers of county election boards — allowing the Republican-dominated state government to potentially disqualify voters in Democratic-leaning areas. It criminalizes the provision of food and water to voters waiting in line, in a state where lines are notoriously long in heavily nonwhite precincts. It requires ID for absentee ballots and limits the placement of ballot drop boxes.

The Georgia law is part of a broader wave of GOP efforts, at the state and national level, to undermine the fairness of American elections. What happened in Georgia reveals the true face of the modern Republican Party: a far-right institution that threatens American democracy.” – VOX

How Georgia SB 202 increases the cost of voting

Georgia SB 202 bill is a poll tax that raises the cost to vote for poor voters of color

The high cost of poll taxes on the poor

The DEET based poll taxes disenfranchise poor, marginalized voters:
– They are more likely to be working multiple jobs on an hourly basis with limited free time. This costing is based on a worker with two part-time jobs as a part-time worker at Walmart and as a cook at McDonald. Neither firm supports the minimum wage proposal.
– They are more likely to use public transport rather than having their own car. This increases the time needed to travel to a drop box or polling location.
– They are less likely to have a computer with internet access forcing them to go to public photo-copying facilities to make copies of documents needed to register to vote or request an absentee ballot. This increasing photocopying and mailing costs.
– Reducing the number of polling locations increases waiting lines and the time that people have to wait in order to vote. Banning volunteers from providing water increases the cost that voters have to pay for refreshments and water while they are forced to wait in line.
– Waiting in line forces voters with children to arrange for childcare creating additional costs.

How the poll tax costs add up
Walmart cashier wage (in lost wages while waiting to vote) $ 9.88/hour
McDonalds wage for cooks (in lost wages while waiting to vote) $ 8.00/hour
Cost of public transport to get to polling location in metro Atlanta $ 6.00/ride
Cost of childcare while waiting in line to vote $ 12.36/hour

Postage fee $ 0.55/letter
Photocopying costs for documents to register to vote or request an absentee ballot $ 0.09/page

New poll taxes created by SB 202 drive up the cost of voting by increasing the distance, effort, expense and time needed to cast a vote.

These poll taxes add up to almost two days wages lost in order to vote!

Takeaway: Disenfranchising poor voters who cannot pay poll taxes is wrong. Firms should give their workers a paid day off so they can vote without losing wages created due to Republican barriers to voting.


National Museum of American History – American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith
Interactive Constitution – 24th Amendment : Abolition of Poll Taxes
Rolling Stone – Everything You Need to Know About Georgia’s New Voting Law
VOX – Yes, the Georgia election law is that bad

Image credit: American History
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