Is postage on mail-in ballots a poll tax? Let’s explore.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian says that the 91 cents in postage a voter who chooses to cast a mail-in ballot must pay is an unconstitutional poll tax. Nineteenth-century poll taxes were designed to suppress African-American voting strength. Those poll taxes were inherently discriminatory. Postage is required to mail anything, not only ballots. While literally a cost, postage is not an unconstitutional burden akin to a poll tax.  

Santa Clara does not require voters to cast mail-in ballots. They may vote in person. However, even in-person voting will always require voters to expend some type of resource. Most voters will expend gasoline to travel to the polling location. Others may pay for public transportation. Some voters may have to forgo work to vote, causing them to lose wages. There will always be some opportunity cost to every voter, even if it is simply the voter’s time. If every expenditure of resources was akin to a poll tax, elections would become too expensive to administer. The Twenty-fourth Amendment — which forbids poll taxes — does not require the government to remove any potential costs a voter might incur while voting.