Only got to vote if you paid your poll tax
Joy Graham

I am not sure how parents are teaching their children in today’s society, I can only reflect on my upbringing. I was taught my responsibility was to become knowledgeable of the candidates wanting to serve and vote for the person(s) I thought most qualified. They instilled in me that “voting” is a privilege.

Alcoa moved to Sandow, Milam County, Texas and in December 1953 the Rockdale Ranger carried an article written by Charles C. Smith, Jr., Milam County Judge on voting requirements in Texas: “a person must be 21 years of age, a U.S. citizen, have lived in Texas for a year and for six months in the district or county. Poll tax must be paid before Feb. 1.”

At that time the State poll tax was $1.75 per person and paid to the County Tax Assessor-Collector. Gaither Motor Co. in Rockdale was a deputy tax collector, so you could pay in Rockdale or at the Tax Assessors’ office in Cameron.

Other important elections such as school trustee, bond, property tax and prohibition could be brought up with as little as 30 days notice. A citizen had to meet the requirements and paid his poll tax to vote.

In 1964, the election at the national level was the first one in which no poll tax was required to vote in federal elections, though the tax survived for state and local elections. The 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect that year, abolishing poll tax as a voting requirement for President, Vice President, U.S. senators and representatives in Congress. If you wanted to vote in Texas, different ballots had to be provided for voters qualified for all elections and for those voting only in federal elections.

In 1971, the legislature eliminated the annual registration requirement and provided instead a continuing registration system, whereby voters were automatically registered after participating in primaries or elections.

On Aug. 27, 1973, the 63rd Texas Legislature granted persons 18 years old all the privileges granted those 21 years old. Neither the change in registration laws nor the vote for 18 year olds came voluntarily. All changes in Texas election laws were fought by Texas Legislature and came only after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions against Texas’ position and amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Registration in person or by mail is usually with the county tax assessor-collector. It can be allowed any time; but one must be registered 30 days before an election to vote. Research: Rockdale Ranger 1953 “Poll Tax” by Charles C. Smith, Jr. County Judge, Milam County Election Laws: The Handbook of Texas Online, State Historical Commission 6/9/2013 6:24 p.m.

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