CAPITATION TAXES, or poll taxes, are levied on each person without reference to income or property. The U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 9, forbids the federal government from levying a capitation or other direct tax "unless in Proportion to the Census of Enumeration" provided for in Section 2. Section 9, however, in accord with colonial practices of placing taxes on the importation of convicts and slaves, permits a tax or duty to be imposed on persons entering the United States, "not exceeding ten dollars for each person."
The poll-tax restriction does not apply to the states. Following colonial precedents, the states employed this tax, generally placing a levy on all males above age twenty-one, or sometimes above age sixteen. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, southern states made payment of a poll tax a prerequisite to the exercise of suffrage. This requirement disqualified many African Americans who could not afford the tax, or subjected their votes to influence by those who paid the tax for them. The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1964, outlawed the use of the poll tax in federal elections. In 1966 the Supreme Court ruled that the poll tax as a prerequisite for voting in a state election was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Richard B.Morris/c. p.