David Dunn-Rankin

In Florida, people without sufficient income to pay certain government taxes and fees lose their right to vote.

Reader S. thinks this system, which prohibits a certain category of people from voting, is not a poll tax. Using the words “poll tax” to describe Floridians’ not being able to vote is a con job – according to S.

See if you agree with S. – that comparing today’s problem to the poll tax is just a con job.

Let’s look at the origin of the poll tax concept.

We in America assume a poll tax is related to voting. After all, we use the words “polling” places and the latest electoral “poll.”

The origin of the word poll is not related to voting. The origin of the word poll means head. A poll tax is a tax per head.

A poll tax represents a philosophy that everyone pays the same amount of tax, regardless of income. A poll tax is imposed without regard to ability to pay, and it is not proportionate to income.

A poll tax is both an ancient and a modern system of taxation.

Even God apparently believed in and imposed a poll tax. In Exodus, God commands Moses to collect a half a shekel money from each person aged 20 and up. “The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less.”

In Scotland, as recently as 1987, the Conservative party instituted a poll tax to make sure the local taxes were assessed equally on a per head basis instead of the preexisting progressive property tax system.

Most Americans don’t know this history and assume the poll tax, or the same amount of tax paid per head, was started in the South to stop Blacks from voting. That’s not the case.

Colonial Massachusetts received about one-third of its tax revenue from a poll tax. Many other American colonies had poll taxes. Florida enacted its poll tax in 1885.

It was a new innovation when the poll tax was enhanced after the Civil War to disenfranchise voters in the South. While the poll tax in Florida was designed to limit voting by Blacks, it had the added impact of limiting voting by poor whites and immigrants. After the 1885 passage of the poll tax in Florida:

Women could not vote.

Poor whites and immigrants could not vote.

Blacks could not vote.

A pretty good system in 1885 – if you were a white man with money in Florida. The poll tax was repealed across America in the 1960s, because it was ruled unconstitutional.

The current system in Florida, which charges the same court fees and fines regardless of income, is not technically a poll tax. But this current system has the same effect on lower income Floridians as a poll tax. See if you agree.

In today’s situation and the racist poll tax period, everyone pays the same government fee regardless of income or ability to pay. Those who can’t pay the government fee lose their ability to vote. In Florida, both times, mostly poor whites and Blacks lost the right to vote.

Florida’s current system of fees, originally designed to make criminals pay for the cost of our court system, is now clearly about voter suppression. If the party in power in Tallahassee thought these disenfranchised voters were likely Republican voters, how long would this new poll tax situation remain in place?

Walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Sorry S. This current voter suppression system in Florida is the new poll tax. Florida should be ashamed.

Share your thoughts.