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Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections

Citation. 383 U.S. 663 (1966)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Virginia residents challenged Virginia’s poll tax as unconstitutional.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any free an electoral standard.


The right to vote in state elections is nowhere expressly mentioned in the Constitution. It is argued that the right to vote in state elections is implicit, particularly by reason of the First Amendment and that it may not constitutionally be conditioned upon the payment of a tax or fee. The Virginia residents claim that Virginia’s poll tax violates that Constitution.


Does the Virginia’s poll tax that requires each resident to pay tax to be eligible to vote violate that Constitution?


Yes, the Virginia’s poll tax violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any free an electoral standard. Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth nor to paying or not paying this or any other tax. The political franchise of voting is a fundamental political right, because it is preservative of all rights. Undoubtedly, the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society.


Justice Black

All voting laws treat some persons differently from others in some respects. Some bar a person from voting who is under 21 years of age while others bar those under 18. State poll tax legislation can reasonably, rationally, and without an invidious purpose be found to rest on many state policies including the State’s desire to collect its revenue and its belief that voters who pay a poll tax will be interested in furthering the State’s welfare when the vote.


Wealth, like race, creed or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process. Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of race are traditionally disfavored. To introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter’s qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor. The degree of the discrimination is irrelevant. As a condition of obtaining a ballot, the requirement of fee paying causes an invidious discrimination that runs afoul of the Equal Protection Clause. Because wealth has no relation to voting qualifications and the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened or conditioned, the poll tax requirement violates the Constitution.

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