The 24th Amendment

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The 24th Amendment prohibits states from enacting a poll tax for voting in federal elections.

The 15th Amendment prohibited discrimination from voting based on race or color but not in economic terms. With the passage of the 15th Amendment, African-Americans could vote; several states, primarily Southern ones, created a financial requirement for voting, known as a poll tax, since the fee was collected before voters went to the polls to vote. (Southern states were not the only ones to have a poll tax, however. California had one until 1914.)

The fee for voting was $1 in some states and $2 in other states. That was a lot of money for many people, especially poor people. Some states furthered the divide between rich and poor by incorporating a "grandfather clause," allowing anyone whose grandfather had voted in a previous election to skip the poll tax altogether. This kind of clause effectively prevented former slaves from qualifying and was part of a coordinated effort at disenfranchisement. Other methods included literacy tests and general intimidation at polling booths.

Poll taxes continued for several decades and were declared constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1937. Some states abandoned the poll tax eventually. In the 1960s, though, five states still had such a tax: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia.

Congress passed the Amendment on August 27, 1962. Less than a year later, on January 23, 1964, the three-quarters threshold was reached on the 24th Amendment became the law of the land.

Significantly, though, the 24th Amendment applied only to federal elections, not to state elections. Some states continued to have poll taxes for state elections, until this practice was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1966.

The Text of the 24th Amendment
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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David White