North Dakota votes on poll tax

November 6, 2012

One of the stranger ballot measures in front of voters today is to repeal Section 6 of Article X of the North Dakota Constitution that provides for the state to charge an annual poll tax, with a few exceptions.

The language, from 1889:

The legislative assembly may provide for the levy, collection and disposition of an annual poll tax of not more than one dollar and fifty cents on every male inhabitant of the state over twenty-one and under fifty years of age, except paupers, idiots, insane persons and Indians not taxed.

In North Dakota, however, the poll tax was never implemented. So why, 123 years later, are they getting around to repealing the part of their constitution that so many in other places associate with racial discrimination?

North Dakota's answer was that the state didn't have an African American population of any size in 1889 and that the tax was always meant to be a way to pay for roads -- an argument that continues today.

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