THERE IS A TENDENCY to talk about the poll tax as if it were the same in every state which links it to the suffrage. But it differs greatly from state to state and because of these differences, it varies in its effects on voting. Before the administration of the tax requirement and the effects of the tax upon voting can be significantly discussed, it is necessary to seek answers to the following questions: (1) How much is the tax? (2) Who is liable, and who is exempt? (3) When must the tax be paid if the taxpayer is to be permitted to vote? (4) What proof of payment may be required of voters? (5) What use do the states make of poll tax revenue?
Supporters of the tax often state that anyone who will not pay $1.00 for the privilege of voting does not deserve to have that privilege. Reiteration of this statement has created the impression that the amount of the poll tax is invariably an insignificant sum. Citation of the annual rate alone tends to confirm this impression. Table I shows that the annual rate varies from $1.00 to $2.00. One state ( Arkansas) requires an annual payment of $1.00; three states ( Alabama, Texas and Virginia), $1.50; and one state ( Mississippi), $2.00.
The annual rate, however, does not show the true economic burden of the tax. Three states have cumulative poll tax requirements--i.e., the tax must be paid for each of a series of years. In Alabama and Mississippi, the voter is required to have paid the tax for two years before he is eligible for a ballot and, in Virginia, for three years.