Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required states with a documenting history of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting laws. When the law was passed in 1965, one of its main targets were “literacy tests.”
Ostensibly designed to ensure that everyone who voted could read and write, they were actually tools with which to disenfranchise African Americans and sometimes Latinos and American Indians. Minority voters were disproportionately required to take these tests and, when they did, the election official at the polling place had 100% jurisdiction to decide which answers were correct and score the test as he liked. The point was to intimidate and turn them away from the polls. If this sounds bad, you should see the range of disturbing and terrifying things the White elite tried to keep minorities from voting.
The tactics to manipulate election outcomes by controlling who votes is still part and parcel of our electoral politics. In fact, since most voters are not “swing” voters, some would argue that “turnout” is a primary ground on which elections are fought. This is not just about mobilizing or suppressing Democrats or Republicans, it’s about mobilizing or suppressing the turnout of groups likely to vote Democrat or Republican. Since most minority groups lean Democrat, Republicans have a perverse incentive to suppress their turn out. In other words, this isn’t a partisan issue; I’d be watching Democrats closely if the tables were turned.
Indeed, states have already moved to implement changes to voting laws that had been previously identified as discriminatory and ruled unconstitutional under the Voting Act. According to the Associated Press:
After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot. North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats.
So, yeah, it appears that Chief Justice John Roberts’ justification that “our country has changed” was pretty much proven wrong within a matter of hours or days. This is bad. It will be much more difficult to undo discriminatory laws than it was to prevent them from being implemented and, even if they are challenged and overturned, they will do damage in the meantime.
In any case, here are two examples of literacy tests given to (mostly) minority voters in Louisiana circa 1964. Pages from history (from Civil Right Movement Veterans):
Thanks to @drcompton for the tip!Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
chibimars — July 1, 2013
"30. Draw five circles that one inter-locking part". How would you do that??
Felonious Grammar — July 1, 2013
Hateful and mocking.
Ted_Howard — July 1, 2013
I'm generically skeptical that voting ID laws will work at suppressing minority voters in anything but the very short-run. The costs of acquiring an ID, financially or otherwise, is not particularly burdensome. Most people vote because they get utility from voting itself, and I suspect the dollar-equivalent utility exceeds the costs of acquiring a proper ID for the vass majority of voters lacking IDs. Even my elderly, relatively poor, black grandmother, who lives in a rural area, didn't have an ID, so she hopped on a bus, paid the small fee, and then voted so I suspect most others minorities are capable of similar behavior. This is not to say I don't find the voter ID laws objectionable, I do. I just don't find it plausible that they are going to have a significant impact on electoral outcomes. It may dissuade some voters, but I doubt enough to have an impact on any electoral outcomes. For example, it's well-known in Georgia and Indiana that existing voter ID laws didn't cause a decline in minority turnout. Whether it would have been higher otherwise is impossible to know, but the evidence hardily favors the apocalyptic pronouncements many espouse. I even suspect these laws will probably backfire on Republicans actually. Not only will they likely not reduce minority turnout meaningfully (if at all), but it may increase minority turnout as various activists organizations and political machines rile up minority voters on this issue. Frankly, I find it somewhat irritating that people (usual white elites) assume minorities aren't clever enough to adapt these laws when they lack any persuasive evidence suggesting we are not.
Also, I've always find drawing analogies between these type of voting laws to poll taxes and literary tests borderline offensive. The difference in magnitude and scope between these different voter suppression laws is enormous and by drawing facile comparisons trivializes not just historical injustices, but the enormous, if incomplete, progress that has been made.
Ozy111 — July 1, 2013
I don't understand the objection to photo IDs at all. You need a photo ID to prove that you're allowed to drive a car, but not to decide who runs the government?
Jayn — July 1, 2013
Am I the only one imagining some sadistic person deciding that #24 refers
not to simple palindromes, but words that are still readable when
fss — July 1, 2013
Seems like no accident that the language and grammar used to write the test questions is absolute garbage.
Japaniard — July 1, 2013
Ignoring for a moment that #28 is impossible (a line can't be simultaneously horizontal and curved and straight at only one point), I did get a chuckle at #20
It takes real skill to make a three word sentence so convoluted while still being technically a simple request
David Baker — July 2, 2013
I don't vote. Participation in such a blatant fraud is not a priority for me. For those who prefer to engage in politics and believe that they are fulfilling their civic duty by checking the name with the R or D by it. You folks haven't the slightest clue. You ask one piece of garbage after another to govern your lives and represent your interests. You beg and plead with corrupt psychopaths over their indifference to your needs. In every circumstance you are lied to, stolen from, and sold out to interests that need you for wars, consumerism, and whatever else.
The issue I take with your article is in your opposition to requiring ID before being invited to partake in the political process. Do you stand opposed to the use of ID in order to purchase beer, plane tickets, or anything paid for with credit cards? Do you think it wise to treat beer buying with more scrutiny than the act of choosing the heads of state who currently hold sway over the most global military empire ever to exist? Do you like the Mexican state? The military police, the kidnapping and murder rates that dwarf the Afghanistan and Iraq casualties during war, or the wonderful and enterprising drug cartels. Mexico is a failed state, thanks in large part to US warfare upon drug users. What do you expect to accomplish by letting citizens of a foreign country vote in US elections? Chalking the opposing view up to racism is intellectually dishonest and baseless considering the facts. If you can tie your shoes than you can see that Mexican's have the same right to govern US laws as US citizens have in Mexico. None. So what is it you seek from the folks who lack ID? Some political objective that is unpopular with US voters, but normal for citizens suffering the narco-state south of the border?
Is it gun control that you wish to achieve through this importation of votes? Do you think that race relations would benefit from the use of a foreign people to outlaw 10% of the Bill of Rights as political cannon fodder for the democratic elite? This is a recipe for civil war and the complete destruction of the US empire. I hope you are aware of the inevitable reaction that will come about when 20 million foreigners are manipulated and organized towards destroying the Constitutions last check on the power of the government. You are provoking a war that will be unimaginably brutal and your side in the end will be defeated, even if it ends with a divided US, half of what's left will be governed by the equity and logic that demands equal status and legal rights under law. The people working in government will have the same rights to own arms as those who make honest livings. Special status that elevates one group above the laws that burden the liberties of the self governed is unacceptable and foolish to a fault.
So keep on fighting the fight for your team. Recruiting millions of voters will be considerably easier than recruiting the same to bleed for the gains of bad men. If you want to get rid of the 300 million private firearms held by Americans you better be prepared to fight as hard as they are. 60,000 murders from the gangsters in Mexico suggest that voting is much different than fighting.
I leave you with this thought. Annually there are 1,000 or so deaths from rifles in the US. 6,000 deaths in the USA every day. 250,000 People die every year from heart disease due to the corporate food supply that is borderline toxic waste. 100,000 Deaths a year come from doctors and the drugs they heap onto people who suffer from poor diet. You come for my rifle and I will give you the bullets first. If guns scare you then the thought of monopoly control over all guns concentrated in the hands of a murderous, stealing, kid raping crime syndicate in DC should be the scariest thing you can think of.
[links] Link salad has no responsibility | jlake.com — July 2, 2013
[...] History Repeating Itself: Discriminatory Voting Laws [...]
analog2000 — July 2, 2013
"Chief Justice John Roberts’ justification that “our country has changed” was pretty much proven wrong within a matter of hours or days."
You are taking this quote out of context. The law in question required SOME states to get approval before changing their laws. For example, Indiana was allowed to pass a voter ID law no problem, but North Carolina was stopped. That is the part that Justice Roberts felt was non-sensical. That stopping some states from doing the exact same things that other states have already done because the state has a HISTORY of doing bad things no longer made sense.
Yrro Simyarin — July 2, 2013
We should be clear - the supreme court decision did not overrule the equal protection aspects of the Voting Rights act. It removed the additional federal oversight for specific localities that were considered likely to be in violation when the act was originally passed. The new laws in Texas et al will still be subject to the same challenges that a law passed in New York or Ohio would be.
In an ideal world, congress would now come up with a more quantitative solution to choosing which localities deserve additional attention. Perhaps if the democrats make some electoral gains next year they will do just that - nothing the Supreme Court has done prevents it.
So if you are opposed to voter id laws this is a bad thing, but it isn't the end of the world in terms of divisive SC decisions (like Heller or Roe v Wade) that the legislature can't work around.
Larry Charles Wilson — July 2, 2013
Literacy tests were also used to disenfranchise poor whites.
What 'Literacy Tests' Looked Like in Louisiana Before the Voting Rights Act - — July 3, 2013
[...] post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner [...]
Voter Suppression, by Incompetence or Design | Welcome to the Doctor's Office — November 20, 2014
[…] Voter suppression seriously harms our right to call ourselves a democracy. Notably, it’s significantly worse today. When the Supreme Court struck down the part of the Voting Rights Act that required oversight of states with a history of voting discrimination, the ability of the federal government to ensure equal voting rights was seriously damaged. Previously monitored states immediately began passing legislation designed to suppress voting. As I wrote previously: […]
Lesley Buse — July 7, 2018
The assumption that voter ID requirements are unfair to minorities as the focus of the comment by Howard_Ted, misses the larger point that the true effect is on those in poverty living in urban settings. Using his grandmother living in a rural setting as the example does not equate with life as an impoverished urban citizen, generally, who may not be galvanized by any leader or organization and so goes unnoticed in this passive-aggressive attempt to restrict voters' rights. Poor is not simply a minority issue. And if I cannot feed myself, or house myself because of other lifetime experienced inequalities, am I really going to be thinking about what bus will get me to an ID place, do I want to use the little money I have on a bus, and can I get an ID without a permanent residence? Maybe it is yes to all of these questions, but putting up roadblocks to vote should always be seriously reviewed especially as many states with past voting discriminatory practices have not actually changed very much in how they regard minorities and the poor.
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