South of the Ballot

The people of this country are pretty well aroused about "preserving democracy" throughout the world. But many of them admit the necessity of establishing democracy within our own borders first. A step in this direction has at last been taken, for last Monday a campaign was begun to bring more democracy to the United States. That campaign is known as National Anti-Poll Tax Week, from May 11 to May 17. Its purpose is to bring freedom to large sections of the population of the South by abolishing the poll tax existing in eight southern states.

The poll tax is simply a direct tax levied by the state upon those who wish to vote; the sum levied is usually $1.50 or $2.00. As soon as a person becomes twenty-one he must pay his tax in order to vote. In some states, if he does not vote that year or the next, the taxes are added up, and before voting the citizen must pay the sum total of his taxes. Thus a large number of people, who have not voted for several years, are required to pay back taxes amounting to twenty dollars or more before balloting. As a result, six million impoverished whites and four million Negroes cannot vote. These voteless ten million citizens amount to two-thirds of the potential voting population of the South. Texas, home of the redoubtable Martin Dies, allows only twenty-six per cent of its voting population to cast ballots. Representative Dies, absorbed in rooting out "un-American" activities was himself elected to office by a thoroughly "un-American" electoral system.

The only important legislative action to remedy this situation; the Geyser Anti-Poll Tax bill, lies buried in the House judiciary committee, and will not be proposed for consideration before the House. The principal objective of National Anti-Poll Tax Week is to blast this bill out of the committee by getting two hundred and eighteen signatures of congressmen on a discharge petition, the number of signatures necessary to bring the bill before the House. If the campaign is successful, and the "right to vote" becomes more than an idle phrase to ten million southern citizens, we can then perhaps do a little more constructive thinking about making the rest of the world safe for democracy.