Passed by Congress August 27, 1962. Ratified January 23, 1964.
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 poll tax or other tax.
SECTION. 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Although passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments helped remove many of the discriminatory laws left over from slavery, they did not eliminate all forms of discrimination. The Twenty-Fourth Amendment, ratified on January 23, 1964, was passed to address one particular injustice that prevented numerous citizens from voting—the poll tax, that is, a state fee on voting.
Along with literacy tests and durational residency requirements, poll taxes were used to keep low-income (primarily African American) citizens from participating in elections. The Supreme Court has since struck down these discriminatory measures, opening democratic participation to all, regardless of one’s ability to pay.
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The Twenty-fourth Amendment prohibits the use of poll taxes in federal elections, either in primaries or general elections. Such taxes, also known as head taxes, were often used in a discriminatory manner to prevent access to the ballot, especially for poor whites and racial minorities. Although only a few states still used the poll tax in the early 1960s, Congress thought the problem was best solved by a constitutional amendment, since states traditionally controlled elections. The amendment was passed by Congress in 1962 and ratified in 1964.
Linda R. Monk, J.D., is a constitutional scholar, journalist, and nationally award-winning author. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she twice received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award, its highest honor for law-related media. Her books include The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution, Ordinary Americans: U.S. History Through the Eyes of Everyday People, and The Bill of Rights: A User’s Guide. For more than 25 years, Dr. Monk has written commentary for newspapers nationwide, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, and Huffington Post. In addition, she has appeared on MSNBC, C-SPAN, and NPR.