Woman Suffrage Act.
By JOSEPH H. ACKLEN.
In compliance with your request for
an opinion on chapter 139, "the "woman
suffrage" act, I beg to say:
I heard the discussion in the. senate.
When the bill was read I remarked to
the gentleman next to me, Mr. Thomas
jB. Johnson, that the measure was un-
constitutional. Careful examination
of this act confirms the opinion then
There are at least two very serious
defects in the act—the poll tax and
the ballot—and possibly a third.
Poll tax is a constitutional tax, imposed to raise revenue for educational
purposes. Section 28, article 2, pro-
vides, "All male citizens of this state
over the age of twenty-one years, ex
cept such persons as may be exempted
by law on account of age or other in-
firmity, shall be liable to a poll tax
of not less than fifty cents nor more
than one dollar per annum; nor shall
any county or corporation levy a poll
tax exceeding the amount levied by
Section I, of article 4, provides:
"There shall be no qualification attached to the right of suffrage, except
that each voter shall give to the
judges of election, where he offers to
vote, satisfactory evidence that he has
paid the poll taxes assessed against
him for such preceding period as the
legislature shall prescribe, and at such
times as may be prescribed by law;
without which his vote cannot be received. And all male citizens of the
state shall be subject to payment of
poll taxes and to the performance of
military duty within such ages as may
be prescribed by law."
Section 12, article 11 provides: "The
state taxes derived hereafter from
polls shall be appropriated to educational purposes, in such manner as the
general assembly shall from time to
time direct by law."
For poll tax and voting, see the following cases: Ballentine vs. Pulaski,
15, Lea 633; Jackson vs. State, 17 Pick.,
138; Kuntz vs. Davidson County, 6 Lea,
65; Lynn vs. Polk, 8, Lea 132; State vs.
Old, 11, Pick., 723; State Vs. Weaver,
14, Cates, 198; Ledgerwood vs. Pitts,
14 Cates, 198.
Section 3 of the act in question:
"That where satisfactory evidence of
the payment of poll taxes assessed
against them for a certain period is
required to be furnished at such election by male voters, women who are
entitled to vote under the preceding
sections of this act in elections for
electors of President and Vice-President of the United States shall likewise furnish evidence of the payment
of poll taxes assessed against them
in the same manner required by law
of other voters."
Actual payment of poll tax does not
protect the voter who fails to produce the statutory proof of payment;
i. e., the satisfactory evidence of payment required. State vs. Old, II Pick., 723.
Omitting the words
assessed against them, the provision of section 3 means: Women must produce the evidence of payment of poll taxes required of men as a prerequisite of voting. The legislature has no constitutional authoirityto assess a poll tax against women, therefore the words "assessed against them" are superfluous.
Should it be insisted that the legislature
intended to confer upon women
the right to vote without requiring
satisfactory evidence of payment
of poll taxes while such a requirement
is exacted from men then that
would be class legislation.
The logical conclusion from the lan-
guage employed in section 3 is: That
women were put (in the elections
mentioned) on the same footing as
No poll tax is sought to be im-
posed upon them as upon men. Nor
could there be under the constitu-
tion. Therefore, the requirement that
they produce satisfactory evidence of
its payment as a prerequisite to vot-
ing makes it in effect a privilege tax.
This the legislature cannot impose as
voting is not an avocation.
It may be further noted that Sec-
tion 3 refers only to "elections for
electors of President and Vlce-Presi-
dent of the United States," and is si-
lent as to other elections "for all officers, of cities, towns and taxing districts and upon all questions or propositions submitted exclusively to the
vote of the electors of such municipal-
ties" set out in section 1.
The ballot presents a no less serious
difficulty. Under our election law
names of all candidates appear upon
one ballot, and there is no provision
made for a separate box.
The following illustration will explain this: Given a precinct where one
thousand ballots are cast, the clerks
poll lists showing five hundred men
and five hundred women to have voted.
The count, however, discloses the fact
that some eight or nine hundred ballots have been Voted for others than
the presidential electors. Here, then,
is a situation where the entire vote of
that precinct, in other than the presidential race, must be thrown out. This
might result in reversing the real voice
of the people.
The legislature has authorized numerous bond issues to be determined
by local elections. Until the "woman
suffrage" act is passed upon by the
courts, women voting in these elections may cause the validity of the
bond issue to be questioned, and thus
affect the sale of the bonds.
It is regrettable that this situation
has arisen. The public interest de-
mands that it be settled by our Supreme Court at the earliest possible
The Republican party, now in control
of congress, will pass the Susan B.
Anthony amendment, thereby seeking
to make political capital for 1920. But
as only state legislatures that shall
have been elected subsequent to such
passage can act upon the amendment,
some time may yet elapse before it becomes a part of the Federal constitu-
This reply to your inquiry is not a
court brief but merely a very "brief
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