The 24th Amendment eliminates the poll tax, a state fee on voting. Poll taxes were used to keep low-income citizens from participating in elections.
New Hampshire becomes the first state to eliminate the rule that only property owners and taxpayers could vote. Following New Hampshire’s lead, other states begin to shift away from such restrictions in an effort to open the electorate to all white males.
North Carolina becomes the last state to eliminate the rule that citizens must own property to vote, effectively extending the right to vote to all white men, including migrants and transients, within the United States.
Four years after the end of the Civil War, the 15th Amendment, the final Reconstruction amendment, grants the right to vote to newly freed slaves and other men of color in the United States. The 15th Amendment provides: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
In Guinn v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court finds unconstitutional Jim Crow laws, which helped enforce segregation in Southern states. Specifically, the Court declares unconstitutional the “grandfather clause” in the Oklahoma Constitution, which allowed illiterate men to vote if they could prove that their grandfathers had the right. As a result, illiterate white men could vote but not illiterate blacks, since as a general rule their grandfathers had been slaves.
Such regulations, which were intended to disenfranchise former slaves and other people of color, continued to persist as a method of circumventing the specific wording of the 15th Amendment well into the 20th century.
During this period of racial segregation, many Southern states adopt the policy of collecting a poll tax from voters on Election Day. This tactic successfully denied the right to vote to many African American voters who could not afford the tax. In yet another case that disenfranchised African American voters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Breedlove v Suttles that Georgia’s use of a poll tax did not violate the 14th or 15th Amendment. Poll taxes are regularly imposed until 1966, when the Supreme Court reverses itself in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections.
The 24th Amendment, which banned the poll tax as a voting requirement in federal elections, became part of the Constitution on January 23 when South Dakota ratified it. The poll tax was one of the Jim Crow laws in the post-Reconstruction South that tried to disenfranchise black voters.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, after 534 hours of congressional debate and consideration of 500 amendments. The law prohibits discrimination in a variety of settings, including public accommodations (such as hotels and train stations), education and government services. Title VII of the law prohibits private employers, labor unions, and employment agencies from discriminating in employment (from hiring to wages to layoffs) on the basis of race, sex, color, religion and national origin. The act creates the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce the employment provisions of the statute.
Passed by Congress in 1962 and ratified on Jan. 23, 1964, the 24th Amendment outlaws the use of a poll tax in federal elections. Previously, poll taxes are imposed on voters in both state and federal elections to prevent low-income Americans, particularly African Americans, from exercising their right to vote. The amendment states: “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.”
After ratification of the 24th Amendment, Virginia amends its poll tax law. Voters can either pay the poll tax or file a “certificate of residency” proving they had lived in the state six months before the election. In Harman v. Forssenius, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that this burden of proving residency so far ahead of an election is unconstitutional and violates the 24th Amendment.
Finding that federal anti-discrimination laws, particularly the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are not sufficient to overcome the resistance by state officials to enforce the 15th Amendment (as soon as one discriminatory practice is struck down, states impose a new one), Congress adopts this comprehensive voting rights law. The legislation, which President Lyndon Johnson signs into law on Aug. 6, 1965, temporarily suspends literacy tests and provides for the appointment of federal examiners (with the power to register qualified citizens to vote) in voting districts across the nation. Under this law, any racially discriminatory act that prevents Americans from voting is prohibited. After its passage, the voting rate for African Americans will increase rapidly.
In Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, the U.S. Supreme Court overrules its decision in Breedlove v. Suttles, declaring that the use of a poll tax at state elections is unconstitutional. The Court holds that such “invidious discrimination” based on economic status violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. As a result of this ruling and the earlier passage of the 24th Amendment, poll taxes cannot be used in either federal or state elections.