The right to vote is one of our core constitutional rights. But for many years, minorities were subjected to such barriers as literacy tests, land ownership, and the infamous poll tax. The poll tax was an amount voters were required to pay before they could vote until it was deemed unconstitutional. Passed in 1964, the 24th amendment prohibits the obligation of a poll tax on all voters. But the amendment had not been formally approved by the state of Texas until this legislative session, when Representative Alma Allen sponsored a resolution to post-ratify the 24th amendment.
“All kinds of means were used to disenfranchise voters,” Dr. Allen, Democrat from Houston, said. Texas was one of the nine states that had not yet approved it. “We have some lists we don’t want to be on,” Allen said. “But we’re going to take us off that list not to go on record with the 24th amendment. It removes a stigma from the state of Texas that we do want to empower everyone to exercise their God-given right to vote, and that sends a very powerful message not only to my constituents but every citizen in the state of Texas.”
It is not uncommon for a state to post-ratify an amendment. Mississippi didn’t post-ratify the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery until 1995, one hundred and thirty years after the original amendment was integrated. It was not until 2003 that New Jersey and Ohio both went on record in support of the 14th Amendment, extending the definition of full citizenship to persons of all races, which was incorporated into the Constitution in 1868.
This is the third year that Allen has carried this resolution in the House. Last session it passed in the House but died in the Senate as time ran out. This time, the resolution ratifying the poll tax was approved unanimously. She also received support from many Republican members. “It takes a while to walk from desk to desk, and build trust,” Allen said. “But I think everybody [was] excited about the potential for this bill.”
Rep. Leo Berman, a Republican from Tyler, helped Allen gain bipartisan collaboration on the resolution. “I became very interested only because it was the right thing to do after all these years,” Allen said. “You try to get people from both sides of the aisle, so it can be a bipartisan effort, and it was a bipartisan effort last session and this session because we passed it unanimously.”
Senator Rodney Ellis, a Democrat from Houston, carried an identical bill in the Senate. “I think for our state, when we’re getting all this bad press nationally and around the globe about issues like… secession, it will be a good positive gesture and a catalyst for good discussion about our history and to think about what people went through,” he said.
An educator by profession, Allen was Ellis’s third grade teacher at a time when the poll tax was still being enforced. “This is a bill signing I look forward to going to,” he said.
The resolution will now be recorded in the congressional records of the United States.