The Literacy Test: “I can make out the headline”

“Story of the Negro who went to register. The white man taking his application gave him the standard literacy tests: “What is the 32nd paragraph of the United States Constitution?” he asked. The applicant answered perfectly. “Name the eleventh president of the United States and his entire cabinet.” The applicant answered correctly. Finally, unable to trip him up, the white man asked, “Can you read and write?” The applicant wrote his name and was the handed a newspaper in Chinese to test his reading. He studied it carefully for a time. “Well, can you read it?” “I can read the headline, but I can’t make out the body text.” Incredulous, the white man said, “You can read that headline?” “Oh yes, I’ve got the meaning all right.” “What’s it say?” “It says this is one Negro in Mississippi who’s not going to get to vote this year.” ”

-John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me

Voter suppression was long an approved tactic in the South to keep people of color from voting; “Southern states abandoned the literacy test only when forced to do so by federal legislation in the 1960s.” (Wikipedia)

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Now we have the state of Georgia trying to implement an “exact match” rule that requires that citizens’ names on their government-issued IDs must precisely match their names as listed on the voter rolls.

The state maintains that this is an attempt to reduce voter fraud, but individual voter fraud is largely a myth, and the odds of its occurrence is vanishingly small. I for one cannot count the number of times my name has been misspelled on official documents, especially because it’s not your vanilla white anglo-saxon protestant name like Smith or Jones.  Research by Ted Enamorado with colleagues Ben Fifield and Kosuke Imai have shown that this “exact match” rule could potentially disenfranchise around 900,000 voters in the state of Georgia, and that’s troubling in the extreme.

The right to vote is enshrined in the Constitution. Governments interested in free and fair elections should be doing all they can  to make it easy for people to register and vote, up to and including making election day a national holiday, and implementing universal, automatic voting registration through the DMV and/or other entities.

Gerrymandering remains a terrible, terrible problem. The Electoral College and the existence of superdelegates cloud what should be a straightforward one-person one-vote election process. While the US has traditionally ranked high on a comparative scale of free and fair elections worldwide, cracks are beginning to appear in the structure, particularly with evidence of wholesale foreign influence via electronic disinformation campaigns, as well as direct foreign influence-peddling at the highest levels of our government.

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… because it does.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

 

2 responses to “The Literacy Test: “I can make out the headline”

  1. “Southern states abandoned the literacy test only when forced to do so by federal legislation in the 1960s.”
    Oddly, I’d thought that you’d say that the literacy test would attempted to be used again but for the overall illiteracy rising.

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