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Tags: taxation | voting rights

'No Taxation Without Representation' — Do We Really Believe It?

the words taxation without representation written on a piece of paper with a marker

Paul F. deLespinasse By Wednesday, 29 May 2024 10:02 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

Americans leading our war for independence complained that they elected no members to the British House of Commons, which had attempted to levy taxes on them.

"No taxation without representation" became a popular slogan, and is often still quoted. But do Americans really believe in this generalization?

Before American women received the right to vote, were they subject to taxation? I believe they were not exempt.

Black people, no longer slaves after the Civil War, still had to pay property taxes even though in many states they were prevented from voting by legislation and/or by sheer terror aimed at those who dared to cast a vote. And when the income tax came in, decades before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, they had to pay that, too.

At the present time children are required to pay income tax if their incomes are large enough to to be taxable. And if they are employed, children who are too young to vote will have Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from their paychecks.

Likewise, people who are in prisons remain subject to income tax even though they are ineligible to vote in most states. And in a great many states, even ex-prisoners are not allowed to vote, but they must still pay all taxes due.

Noncitizens residing in the United States, legally or illegally, are required to pay taxes, but they cannot vote. "Dreamers," brought without federal permission into the U.S. as young children, must pay income, Social Security and Medicare taxes, but are ineligible to receive Social Security and Medicare. And of course, they cannot vote.

Americans who travel to other parts of the country are often hit with state and local taxes — on hotel rooms, auto rentals, etc. — that are deliberately aimed at them, perhaps exactly because they cannot vote in those areas.

It is hard to believe, given these facts, that Americans really believe in "no taxation without representation."

But it is equally hard to see what could be done about reconciling the current facts with the popular slogan.

One possible solution would be to allow anybody who pays taxes to vote, be they children, noncitizens, prisoners, or former prisoners. While something might be said for allowing all adults to vote without regard to citizenship or imprisonment, extending this right to children would probably be unwise.

It might be possible to allow eligible parents to cast additional votes on behalf of their minor children, which would be representation for the kids in some sense of the term. But it would complicate the administration of elections and would be difficult to sell politically.

There are principled reasons why the right to vote should not be taken away as punishment for a crime, but unfortunately the Constitution implicitly allows this to be done and so it might require a politically difficult constitutional amendment. Even in states which initiatives have allowed former prisoners to vote, the measure may be sabotaged by the state legislature as has happened recently in Florida.

Another approach to eliminating the conflict between our actions and the old slogan could be to amend tax laws to exempt people who are ineligible to vote from paying taxes.

But this would create immense opportunities for people to avoid taxes by transferring income or property to their minor children. It would turn resident aliens, legal or "illegal," into privileged people.

It would be a reward for crime, which would be inconsistent with the idea that criminals should be punished, not rewarded.

On the whole, then, the inconsistency between the slogan "no taxation without representation" and our actual behavior will probably remain with us for the indefinite future. We must therefore conclude that although the slogan sounds good, we don't really believe in it.

"Actions speak louder than words."

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981. His most recent book is "The Case of the Racist Choir Conductor: Struggling With America's Original Sin." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon and other states. Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Another approach to eliminating the conflict between our actions and the old slogan could be to amend tax laws to exempt people who are ineligible to vote from paying taxes.
taxation, voting rights
Wednesday, 29 May 2024 10:02 AM
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