The anniversary of the 24th Amendment reminds us that poll taxes are not dead

Fifty-five years ago today, the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. The main provision of the amendment reads:

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.

This overruled prior Supreme Court decisions upholding poll taxes. And while the amendment itself only applies to federal elections, just two years later, the Supreme Court extended its reasoning to state and local elections in the case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Yet while the traditional poll taxes are gone, many wealth-based barriers to full political participation remain. In particular, even when voters have the formal ability to vote, our modern big-money campaign finance system allows big money interests to dominate our politics and drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. As Free Speech For People’s co-founder and president John Bonifaz has explained:

Like the poll tax of the past, this barrier – the wealth primary – blocks millions of voters from participating in the political process on an equal basis.  And, as with the poll tax history, the abolition of this wealth barrier to our democracy will require a reversal of prior Supreme Court rulings. … The poll tax story reminds us that a sustained people’s movement combined with continued pressure in the courts can eradicate an entrenched and anti-democratic system.  The wealth primary barrier may stand today.  But, it will not stand forever.

Click here to learn more about Free Speech For People’s campaign to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decisions that have created the modern wealth primary.

 

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