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Long Lines are the New Poll Taxes

They're the same thing.
Author Headshot

By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

Let’s talk about poll taxes.

We tend to think of them as the relic of a more unjust time, an artifact of the Jim Crow South. For good reason. We banned them in 1964 with the 24th Amendment to the Constitution. And it is true that the poll taxes of the past — a fee levied directly on potential voters — are dead and gone. But if you think of the poll tax in the abstract, as any policy meant to exact an economic cost on would-be voters, then it is absolutely clear we still have poll taxes, ones more expensive and potentially costly than anything in the Jim Crow era.

The voters who stood in quarter-mile-long lines to cast a ballot in Ohio this week paid poll taxes. So did the voters who braved three-hour-long waits in Texas and 11-hour lines in Georgia. If you have to devote hours of your life to casting a ballot, you have paid a poll tax. That’s not just because time is irreplaceable, but in a market society like ours, time is literally money. For most workers, time spent in line is money in the form of lost wages and labor hours. For low-income workers in particular, long lines may prove so economically ruinous that they may not vote at all. Given the uneven distribution of long lines, this is the point.

Voters in affluent precincts don’t face long lines. White voters don’t tend to face long lines. Long lines for voting are most common in areas where Black Americans and Hispanics make up a majority of voters, and they are generated by concrete policy decisions: cuts to voting resources in the form of fewer polling stations, poll workers and voting machines.

The culprits, as has often been the case in decisions that limit access to the ballot, are Republican lawmakers and officials who have made the reduction of voting resources a deliberate strategy for shrinking the size of the electorate. In Georgia, for example, the Republican former secretary of state (and current governor) Brian Kemp closed 214 polling stations between 2012 and 2018, often in rural, high-poverty areas with significant Black populations. In Texas, as well, Republicans have fought to reduce options for early voting, contributing to long waits this past week.

When you see long lines for voting, Americans devoting entire days to exercising their right to suffrage, you should remember that these lines are a choice meant to burden our ability to choose our leaders. You should be angry.


What I Wrote

For my Tuesday column, I unpacked the Republican argument for the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court, noting how it doubles as an argument for expanding the court if Democrats win the White House and the Senate.

The same Constitution that says Republicans can confirm Barrett weeks before the election, that allows them to retroactively impose a new and novel partisan requirement (same-party control of the Senate) on judicial confirmations, also says Congress can add as many seats to the Supreme Court as it wishes. It says Congress can strip the Supreme Court of its jurisdiction to hear certain kinds of cases. It says the judiciary is as subject to “checks and balances” as any other institution in American government and that the people through their elected officials have the right to discipline a court that works against their will.

For my Friday column, I argued for treating the Constitution post-Civil War as a fundamentally different document than the Constitution that was written in 1787.

Whereas the Constitution of 1787 established a white republic in which the right to property meant the right to total domination of other human beings, the Reconstruction Constitution established a biracial democracy that made the federal government what Charles Sumner called the “custodian of freedom” and a caretaker of equal rights. To that end, the framers of this “second founding” — men like Thaddeus Stevens, Lyman Trumbull and John Bingham — understood these new amendments as expansive and revolutionary.

I also did a live chat on Twitter and was part of a round table on the election and progressive politics for the New York Public Library and The New York Review of Books. Oh! And I was part of a discussion on citizenship with the Virginia Quarterly Review and one on voting with Harper’s Magazine.

Now Reading

Marlene L. Daut on the Haitian Revolution in Lapham’s Quarterly.

Hakeem Jefferson on the complex politics of Black Americans in FiveThirtyEight.

Tressie McMillan Cottom on racial inequality in Dissent magazine.

Olga Khazan on the “anti-vaxxer” mentality in The Atlantic.

Soraya Nadia McDonald on Regina King for Glamour magazine.



If you’re enjoying what you’re reading, please consider recommending it to friends. They can sign up here. If you want to share your thoughts on an item in this week’s newsletter or on the newsletter in general, please email me at

Photo of the Week

I was working in my kitchen this week when I noticed a snail crawling on my porch. Decided to use that as an opportunity to take a photograph break and attempt to capture it using a macro lens.


Now Eating: Pumpkin Bread

I made this for my toddler, who has a small slice for breakfast every morning with a little peanut butter. I reduced the sugar in the recipe (which comes from The New York Times Cooking section) from a total of a cup and three quarters to a cup and a third. In the future, I may substitute the sugar entirely with honey, which will require other adjustments. I’ll let you know how it works out.


  • ½ cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup full-fat sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract


Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil an 8½- or 9-inch loaf pan; line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, pumpkin purée, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, sour cream and vanilla.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until fully combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth into an even layer.

Bake until the loaf is puffed and set, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 60 to 75 minutes. Transfer the bread, in the pan, to a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Use a paring knife to cut the two exposed sides of bread away from the pan, then use the parchment to transfer the cake to the rack. Let cool completely.


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