Poll Taxes Definition

by Drew Lichtenstein

A poll tax is a tax that must be paid before a person may vote. Poll taxes are considered discriminatory because they prevent certain individuals from voting. States that allowed for poll taxes frequently had grandfather clauses allowing certain people to avoid the poll tax, effectively exposing the laws as racist.


Poll taxes were most commonly found in the post-Civil War South as a means of preventing African-Americans from voting. The concept was used by 11 states.

Grandfather Clauses

States that instituted the poll tax frequently included a grandfather clause that allowed individuals to avoid paying the poll tax if their grandfather had voted. At the time, African-Americans did not have relatives who had voted because they were not given the right to vote until after the Civil War.

Jim Crow Laws

Poll taxes were coupled with Jim Crow Laws (laws which created segregation) to suppress the civil rights of minorities in Southern states in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

24th Amendment

Poll taxes were deemed illegal by the 24th amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified in 1964.

Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections

In the 1966 case of "Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections," the Supreme Court supported the 24th amendment by noting that poll taxes are a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Photo Credits

  • Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images