The Twenty-Fourth Amendment: Banning the Poll Tax

The Twenty-Fourth Amendment was ratified on January 23, 1964. The amendment was largely a response to a problem that had begun at the end of Reconstruction: the poll tax. After the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870 (which gave all citizens the right to vote), eleven states in the South instituted poll taxes. These taxes (usually paid once a year), required voters to cough up a small sum of money in order to vote. Though this tax was not high, it was still extremely costly to poor citizens, in particular poor sharecroppers, the majority of which were African-American. Poor whites were also impacted by the poll tax, but some laws allowed them to forego it if their grandfathers had voted – an impossibility for many African-Americans’ grandfathers.

By the 1940s, a movement had begun in Congress to eliminate the poll tax as a voting qualification for federal elections. By 1964, five southern states still retained the poll tax and was seen as an obstacle to fully exercising one’s rights as a citizen, particularly for Black Americans. Since the tax had survived previous constitutional challenges, an amendment was proposed and passed.

“Ratification of the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1964 marked the culmination of an endeavor begun in Congress in 1939 to eliminate the poll tax as a qualification for voting in federal elections. Property qualifications extend back to colonial days, but the poll tax itself as a qualification was instituted in eleven states of the South following the end of Reconstruction, although at the time of the ratification of this Amendment only five states still retained it.1 Congress viewed the qualification as an obstacle to the proper exercise of a citizen’s franchise and expected its removal to provide a more direct approach to participation by more of the people in their government. Congress similarly thought that a constitutional amendment was necessary,2 because the qualifications had previously survived constitutional challenges on several grounds.3

Below is a collection of resources on the Twenty-Fourth Amendment the history of the poll tax in America. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:

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 poll tax or other tax.

Section 2.

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

Explore the 24th Amendment at NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>

Selected online resources on the Twenty-Fourth Amendment:

American ConstitutionNational Constitution Center’s Interactive Constitution

The National Constitution Center offers introductory essays by top legal scholars that explain the meaning of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, reactions to it, and state vs. federal authority over voting qualifications.

Visit NCC’s Interactive Constitution >>


Waud (1867) freed blacks voting“A History of the Poll Tax in America”

In 2018, Kelly Phillips Erb wrote an article for Forbes, tracing the history of the poll tax in America, from colonial times up through the 1960s.

Read the article at Forbes >>




The Library of Congress: The Twenty-Fourth Amendment

The Library of Congress provides a background of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and preceding legislation, as well as resources for additional reading.

Visit the Library of Congress >>



Observations of the Poll Tax: George Stoney on Southern Limitations on Suffrage

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Social Welfare History Project has reprinted documentarist George Stoney’s 1940 account of the poll tax in the South. Stoney describes disenfranchisement and provides voting statistics for poll tax states versus the rest of the nation.

Read George Stoney’s 1940 account of the poll tax >>


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on voting rights, poll taxes, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, or its history and controversies, and would like your work included here, send it to us at

Commentary and articles from JMC fellows:

Election Laws and Policy


James Ceaser, Election Reform: Politics and Policy. (Lexington Books, 2004)

Gideon Cohn-Postar, A Shell Plant Coerced Workers into Attending a Trump Rally, Here’s What That Means for Democracy.” (The Washington Post The Monkey Cage, September 2, 2019)

Election Reform: Politics and PolicyJay Kent Dow, Electing the House: The Adoption and Performance of the U.S. Single-Member District Electoral System. (University Press of Kansas, 2017)

Jay Kent Dow, Party-System Extremism in Majoritarian and Proportional Electoral Systems.” (British Journal of Political Science 41.2, 2011)

David Houpt,Contested Election Laws: Representation, Elections, and Party Building in Pennsylvania, 1788-1794.” (Pennsylvania History 79.3, Summer 2012)

Michael Munger, 19th Century Voting Procedures in a 21st Century World.” (Public Choice 124.1/2, 2005)

Michael Munger, Voting methods, problems of majority rule, and demand-revealing procedures.” (Public Choice 152.1/2, 2012)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Beyond the End of the Beginning.” (Election Reform: Politics and Policy, Lexington Books, 2005)

Electing the House: The Adoption and Performance of the US Single-Member District Electoral SystemDaniel Palazzolo (co-author), Complying with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA): Variations among the States.” (Making Every Vote Count, Princeton University Press, 2006)

Daniel Palazzolo, Election Reform After the 2000 Election.” (Election Reform: Politics and Policy, Lexington Books, 2005)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Election Reform After HAVA: Voter Verification in Congress and the States.” (Publius: The Journal of Federalism 38.3, Summer 2008)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Election Reform in Virginia: Incremental Change and Deliberation.” (Election Reform: Politics and Policy, Lexington Books, 2005)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), HAVA and the States.” (Publius: The Journal of Federalism 35, 2005)

Daniel Palazzolo (co-author), Policy Crisis and Political Leadership: Election Law Reform in the States after the 2000 Election.” (State Politics and Policy Quarterly 6, 2006)

Civic Education and CultureThomas Pangle, Should Felons Vote? A Paradigmatic Debate Over the Meaning of Civic Responsibility.” (Civic Education and Culture, ISI Books, 2005)

Jeffrey Rosen, Political Questions and the Hazards of Pragmatism.” (Bush v. Gore: The Question of Legitimacy, Yale University Press, 2002)

Jonathan White, Citizens and Soldiers: Party Competition and the Debate in Pennsylvania over Permitting Soldiers to Vote, 1861-64.” (American Nineteenth Century History 5, Summer 2004)

Justin Wert (co-author), Seats, Votes, Citizens, and History in the One-Person, One-Vote Problem.” (Stanford Law & Policy Review, May 30, 2012)


Voting Rights


Waud (1867) freed blacks votingGideon Cohn-Postar, Mississippi: African-American Voters Sue Over Election Law Rooted in the State’s Racist Past.” (The Conversation, September 23, 2019)

Gideon Cohn-Postar, Mississippi Governor’s Race Taking Place Under Jim Crow-era Rules After Judge Refuses to Block Them.” (The Conversation, November 1, 2019)

Rogers Smith (co-author), The Last Stand? Shelby County v. Holder and White Political Power in Modern America.” (Du Bois Review 13.1, Spring 2016)

Rogers Smith (co-author), Racial Inequality and the Weakening of Voting Rights in America.” (Discover Society 33, June 1, 2016)

Rogers Smith (co-author), Restricting Voting Rights in Modern America.” (Transatlantica 1, 2015)

Joey Torres, The Voting Rights Act’€™s Pre-Clearance Provisions: The Experience of Native Americans in South Dakota.” (American Indian Culture and Research Journal 41.4, 2017)

Justin Wert (co-author), The Rise and Fall of the Voting Rights Act. (University of Oklahoma Press, 2016)

Jonathan White, Canvassing the Troops: The Federal Government and the Soldiers’ Right to Vote.” (Civil War History 50.3, 2004)

Jonathan White, Supporting the Troops: The Soldiers’ Right to Vote in Civil War Pennsylvania.” (Pennsylvania Heritage, Winter 2006)


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on voting rights, poll taxes, the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, or its history and controversies, and would like your work included here, send it to us at



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