May 24, 2009
Welcoming Texas to the 21st century?
With the speed of a Texas drawl, the Texas legislature finally got around to ratifying the 24th Amendment. Footdraggingly they acted 45 years after the amendment was ratified by sufficient states to become the law of the land.
What’s so special about the 24th Amendment? Why did it take so long for the body that the late Molly Ivins famously called “the leg” (pronounced ‘lej’) to catch up with the rest of the country?
Short answer: the 24th Amendment outlawed the poll tax — a voter-suppression method targeted at African Americans in the Old Confederacy.
It would seem that Texas is slow to cast off the last trappings of “Jim Crow” and move forward with the rest of the country. Is it time to welcome Texas to the 21st century?
Text of the 24th Amendment:
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 any poll tax or other tax.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
This amendment was proposed on August 27, 1962 and ratified on January 23, 1964. Texas was one of 12 states with a poll tax way back in 1964. Because of the ratification of the 24th Amendment, the poll tax went away, but it took the Lone Star state another 45 years to officially get on board.
Ironically that the Texas ‘leg’ is now considering whether to impose another discriminatory measure that has racial overtones — stringent voter ID requirements. Voting rights advocates see strict voter ID requirements as a new and more subtle form of poll tax.
If Texas adopts the voter ID law it will look like a case of one step forward and two steps back for voting rights in Texas.
Texas may not yet be quite ready to step forward into the 21st century. It just slouched forward out of the 19th into the 20th and does not seem eager for further progress, as evidenced by their current debate about voter ID.