Texas shares with many other states especially with former Confederate states a history of systematic disenfranchisement of blacks, Latinos, and poor whites.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, many former Confederate states (and some others as well) instituted new restrictions on voting in order to disenfranchise former slaves. In response, Congress passed and the states ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution which became known as the Civil War Amendments to counteract efforts by southern elites and their allies to reestablish political rule by disenfranchising black voters thereby denying them representation in government.
The 13th Amendment (1865) abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment (1868) and 15th Amendment (1870) to the U.S. Constitution were passed to guarantee, respectively, the "privileges and immunities" and the right to vote of all U.S. citizens.
With the end of the Reconstruction in the 1870s, the nation politically abandoned uniform enforcement of the Civil War amendments. With reduced federal enforcement of the rights protected by the amendments, many southern states enacted Jim Crow laws designed to restrict or prevent African American voter participation. Unlike other states, Texas never legislated two of these tools: literacy tests and the grandfather clause. Instead, Texas suppressed black voting using poll taxes and the white primary.
Poll taxes added a direct out-of-pocket transaction cost to voting by charging money to vote. Texas adopted a poll tax in 1902. It required that otherwise eligible voters pay between $1.50 and $1.75 to register to vote a lot of money at the time, and a big barrier to the working classes and poor. Poll taxes, which disproportionately affected African Americans and Mexican Americans, were finally abolished for national elections by the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1964. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, ruled that poll taxes in state elections were unconstitutional.
The white primary in Texas treated the Democratic Party as a private club whose membership could be restricted to citizens of Anglo heritage. It originated as a change in Democratic Party practice early in the twentieth century as a way to disenfranchise African Americans, and later in south Texas, Mexican Americans. In 1923 the white primary became state law. After numerous legal challenges to successive versions of the law the Legislature had passed to preserve the practice, the U.S. Supreme Court finally and decisively prohibited the white primary in the 1944 case Smith v. Allwright.
This chapter's feature Turnout in U.S. Presidential and Midterm Elections illustrates voter turnout since 1840 and clearly shows suppression of the vote in Texas and the South during the period between Reconstruction and the civil rights movement.