Nation: A Trap, Not a Test

The first U.S. poll tax on voters, a ten-shilling levy enacted by New Hampshire in 1784, did away with property qualifications for voting, thus served as an important halfway step to full suffrage. Though almost all the states abandoned even this vestige of moneyed privilege before the Civil War, Southern legislatures subsequently revived it as a device to disfranchise the Negro.

Most of them eventually dropped the levy in favor of more effective literacy tests, and the 24th Amendment to the Constitution (1964) barred it altogether in federal elections. Nonetheless, four states—Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas—still tax voters in local and state...