The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sent a letter to Republican Party of Virginia Chair John Whitbeck urging the party to reject a proposal to charge delegates a fee to vote in a convention to nominate a presidential candidate in 2016. The fee would be unlawful under the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, both of which prohibit poll taxes, said the ACLU.
“No one should have to pay to vote,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, who wrote the letter. “Our democracy hinges on the principle that everyone has an equal chance to participate in the selection of public officials, regardless of wealth,” she added.
Virginia law allows political parties to determine the method of selecting their presidential nominees. The RPV’s central committee is meeting on June 27, 2015, when it is expected to decide whether to nominate a candidate by a primary or a convention. Parties are responsible for running and financing their own conventions, while the state pays for and operates primaries. Some RPV members have proposed charging convention delegates a $35 fee.
“It is up to the party to decide whether it will nominate its candidate by primary or convention,” said Gastañaga. “In either case, though, it may not impose a poll tax on those who wish to participate.”
In many states, including Virginia, poll taxes were one of many devices designed to exclude African-American voters from the polls before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Virginia imposed poll taxes in state elections until 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional.
“Regardless of its reasons for doing so, the RPV should not revive this relic from Virginia’s shameful Jim Crow past,” said Gastañaga.
The ACLU letter points out that the last time the RPV charged a fee for participation in a nominating convention was in 1994, when the party nominated its candidate for U.S. Senate. In a legal challenge to the fee, the Supreme Court held that would-be Republican voters had a right to sue the party under the section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits poll taxes. Rather than continue to litigate the issue, the RPV dropped the fee requirement.
The ACLU letter says that in addition to the Voting Rights Act, the proposed fee would violate the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, which prohibits poll taxes in federal elections, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits states from discriminating based on wealth in elections.
The ACLU letter can be read here.