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U.S. News
24: Poll taxes abolished

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


The 20th century had entered its second half. The 14th and 15th amendments assuring equal protection and voting rights were a century old, and still, in some corners of the nation, local laws were used to keep black voters away from the ballot box. Poll taxes, which kept the poor out of the voting booth, dated to colonial times. Indeed, some property or tax requirement was employed in almost every early state of the union until they were gradually phased out at the state level in the 19th century or, until they were given the boot by federal courts.

In Pennsylvania, the vote was once limited to property owners, the kind who visited this 19th-century voting house in Westmoreland County. In eight states in the South, more than 100 counties used some form of legal blockade or intimidation to keep black voters from registering. The 24th Amendment passed with little trouble in 1964. Black voter registration surged by 40 percent. In subsequent years, federally enforced Civil Rights acts made that amendment function. Now, with such restrictions outlawed, Joan Ebert, minority inspector, enters the Simpson Polling House in Derry Township and expects all eligible citizens.

Amendment XXIV:

Section 1. 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.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

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