The Poll Tax in the South

By Frederic D. Ogden | Go to book overview

However, it appears that between five and eight percentage points of the 1954 increase resulted from the relaxation in the poll tax requirement. Probably more than 150,000 persons were added to the poll lists as a result of this change. Because of the past low level of voting in Alabama, these increases are extremely important ones. Lowering of the cumulative period not only encouraged many non-voters to register but also resulted in many registered voters, disqualified through failure to pay the tax, becoming requalified. The 1953 amendment particularly encouraged white women to become voters. A significant proportion of the new voters, men as well as women, were persons freed from tax payment because of their age. The number of Negro registrants increased but not startlingly.


CONCLUSIONS

What conclusions about the effect of the poll tax upon voting result from this examination of voting both before and after adoption and repeal? An obvious one is that no single factor affects voting but that turnout is influenced by many interrelated causes. Beca'use of this fact, it is extremely difficult to isolate any one factor and assign a definite weight to it. The investigation also showed that voting tended to decline before adoption and to increase prior to repeal. Thus, in both instances, the action taken with respect to the tax seemed to aid a movement already underway. The tax did not initiate the trend. Poll tax adoption did not cause a permanent decrease in voting; similarly, tax repeal did not produce a steady increase in participation.

Following its adoption, the poll tax apparently caused the greatest voting reduction in Florida and the least decrease in Texas. In Florida, the tax may have caused as much as fifteen percentage points of the reduction that occurred in the 1890's whereas in Texas, it was not responsible for more than five percentage points of the total decrease. The disfranchisement caused by the tax in Arkansas and Tennessee was closer to the Texas decrease than to that in Florida. These estimates, especially that for Florida, are liberal ones.

Poll tax repeal did not increase voting by more than five percentage points in Louisiana, Florida, and Tennessee. In

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