The Poll Tax

July 1, 1941

Report Outline
Proposal of Federal Action to Abolish Poll Tax
Evolution of Present-Day Poll Taxes
Provisions of Present Poll Tax Laws
Effects of Poll Tax Requirement in the South

Proposal of Federal Action to Abolish Poll Tax

Administration Interest in Poll Tax Legislation

Quiet Pressure is being exerted “from a high administration source” to obtain action by Congress at its present session on a bill to prohibit collection of poll taxes as a prerequisite to voting in future federal elections. Hearings shortly to be held by a sub-committee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, under the chairmanship of Senator Norris (Ind., Neb.), may mark the opening of a sustained effort to bring about passage of an anti-poll tax bill. In the House, where hearings were held during the 1940 session, a petition to discharge the Judiciary Committee from further consideration of the Geyer (D., Calif.) anti-poll tax bill is at present in circulation on the floor.

During the 1941 session to date, Congress has received petitions from the General Court of Massachusetts and the Assembly of the California legislature to enact measures to outlaw the poll tax as a prerequisite to voting in federal elctions. The Massachusetts and California petitions both condemn the poll tax requirement as “contrary to the fundamental principles and concepts of the American form of government and democracy.”

Support for Outlawing Poll Tax Requirement

Legislation to abolish the poll tax finds support among members of both parties from the North and West who represent labor or organized farmer constituencies but is strongly opposed by most members of the majority party from the South. Some of the southern opposition comes from members who are personally opposed to the principle of the poll tax but who would regard federal legislation on the subject as an interference with rights of the states. Both parties refused at their 1940 national conventions to incorporate anti-poll tax planks in their platforms, but President Roosevelt has been quoted as saying that the poll tax as a prerequisite to voting is “inevitably contrary to the fundamental democracy and the representative form of government in which we believe.”