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Literacy Tests: Republicans Want Them Back

by: mooncat

Tue Feb 09, 2010 at 05:00:00 AM CST


Republican former Congressman Tom Tancredo advocates literacy tests to the National Tea Party Convention last week:

"People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House," Tancredo said during a speech, according to the Cleveland Leader.

Tancredo also said Obama won because "we do not have a civics, literacy test before people can vote."

Tancredo video here.

Alabama used to have literacy tests for voting, along with poll taxes, and those were used to keep blacks and poor whites from exercising any influence over elections.  The first time we interviewed Rep. Artur Davis, all the way back in August of 2008, he spoke of his mother's generation, Joe Reed's generation, and why it is understandably difficult for that generation -- who grew up unable to sit at the front of the bus, unable to use the same bathroom as white people, subject to literacy tests and poll taxes -- why it is difficult for people who were subjected to those circumstances to believe it is possible to elect a black president or a black governor.  Remember, this was in August of 2008,  almost 3 months before Obama's election.

In the process, Davis told a wonderful story of civil rights attorney Fred Gray's experience with a literacy test.  He failed it, even though he answered every question correctly.  The authorities -- concerned only with preserving the status quo -- absolutely could and did fail people who aced the test, the same way they passed people who didn't answer correctly, as long as their skin color passed the test.

Here's more about those literacy tests Tancredo and the Tea Bag crowd want to bring back.

In the rural counties where most folk lived, you had to go down to the courthouse to register. The Registrars Office was only open two or three days each month for a couple of hours, usually in the morning or afternoon. You had to take off work — with or without your employer's permission — to register. And if a white employer gave such permission, or failed to fire Black who tried to vote, he could be driven out of business by economic retaliation from the Citizens Council.

On the occasional registration day, the county Sheriff and his deputies made it their business to hang around the courthouse to discourage "undesirables" from trying to register. This meant that Black women and men had to run a gauntlet of intimidation, insults, threats, and sometimes arrest on phony charges, just to get to the Registration Office. Once in the Registrars Office they faced hatred, harassment, and humiliation from clerks and officials.

The Alabama Application Form and oaths you had to take were four pages long. It was designed to intimidate and threaten. You had to swear that your answers to every single question were true under penalty of perjury. And you knew that the information you entered on the form would be passed on to the Citizens Council and KKK.

mooncat :: Literacy Tests: Republicans Want Them Back

Many counties used what they called the "voucher system." This meant that you had to have someone who was already a registered voter "vouch" for you — under oath and penalty of perjury — that you met the residence qualification to vote. In some counties this "supporting witness" had to accompany you to the registrars office, in others they were interviewed elsewhere. Some counties limited the number of new applicants a registered voter could vouch for in a given year to two or three. Since no white voter would dare vouch for a Black applicant, in counties where only a handful of African-Americans were already registered only a few more each year could be added to the rolls. And in counties were no African-Americans were registered, none ever could because they had no one to vouch for them.

In addition to completing the application and swearing the oaths, you had to pass the actual "Literacy Test" itself. Because the Freedom Movement was running "Citizenship Schools" to help people learn how to fill out the forms and pass the test, Alabama changed the test 4 times in less than two years (1964-1965). At the time of the Selma Voting Rights campaign there were actually 100 different tests in use across the state. In theory, each applicant was supposed to be given one at random from a big loose-leaf binder. In real life, some individual tests were easier than others and the registrar made sure that Black applicants got the hardest ones.

The image below shows one of the literacy tests used in Alabama back in those bad old days.  Could you pass it?  What about your neighbors?

Literacy Test

Poll
Could you pass this kind of literacy test?
No problem, I know all the answers!
No way, I need to go back to HS civics class!
No. I know the answers, but I don't look right.

Results

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poll tax (4.00 / 2)
the poll tax was another problem. when people counted pennies before they went to the store, paying the poll tax seemed frivolous. i recall in the mid-50's, a substantial white farmer in calhoun county telling me, "if two and a half dollars a year is too much for someone to spend for the right to vote, let him stay home on election day." $2.50 was a half day's pay for some people. incidentally, they were White Citizens Councils. actually, they were Klan with clean shirts.

And if we lose control of the legislature........ (4.00 / 1)

Some of these things, like the poll tax, are now expressly forbidden by the constitution. I don't think they ever got around to that with the civics tests. Those were ruled illegal primarily because of "unfair application", namely, one standard for whites and another for blacks. I don't think there is a decision banning them outright. Also I think if there was then someone like Tancredo would know this and wouldn't say such a thing because of how easily it could be challenged.

 



I don't think Tancredo is too concerned about facts (4.00 / 2)

Also I think if there was then someone like Tancredo would know this and wouldn't say such a thing because of how easily it could be challenged.

Tancredo told the tea party crowd that people who can't spell "vote", or say it in English, elected a President who is a "committed socialist ideologue".  Both parts of that assertion (the illiterate 53% and the "committed socialist ideologue" parts) are demonstrably false, but that didn't stop the crowd from roaring its approval.



[ Parent ]
Rachel Maddow had a great discussion (4.00 / 2)
Including an interview with a history prof (who happens to be black)

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21...

I've got three tools in my arsenal: my voice, my wallet and my vote.


this entire subject is so disgusting and thank god will never happen. (4.00 / 2)
But still shocking that the repugs will pander with this crap.

I'm not sure it will never happen melmel. (0.00 / 0)

And here's why. 

There is still a large segment of the status quo that believes minorities should not have the right to vote and they spend a considerable amount and time and resources to figure out how ways to not only suppress the black vote, but to not count the black vote.

Let's go back to the 2000 election.  I kept wondering how George W. Bush thought he was going to win the election without the African American vote.  Little did I know, he didn't plan to count the African American vote.  Bush v. Gore stopped the  recount in Florida.   The CBC(Congresional Black Caucus) tried to challenge the certification of the vote in Florida but white democrats joined white republicans and ignored them. 

There are also "allegations" of voter suppression in Ohio during the 2004 election.  Senator Barbara Boxer was the only Senator to join the CBC in protest but they were ignored and marginalized again.

With the recent attacks on ACORN, whose real crime in the eyes of some, is they register minorities to vote, the so called Real ID law and allegations of democratic  Voter Fraud, I wouldn't be so sure the literacy test and the poll tax won't be reinstated.  There are some who believe the U.S. Attorney firings were related to voting rights so it's not shocking to me the repubs would pander to this crap.  Not shocking at all.....



The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.~Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D. MA)



[ Parent ]
Artrur Davis was right (no pun). (0.00 / 0)

Make that Joe Reed and others of his mothers generation were right about white Alabama voters.

Artur Davis, all the way back in August of 2008, he spoke of his mother's generation, Joe Reed's generation, and why it is understandably difficult for that generation -- who grew up unable to sit at the front of the bus, unable to use the same bathroom as white people, subject to literacy tests and poll taxes -- why it is difficult for people who were subjected to those circumstances to believe it is possible to elect a black president or a black governor.  Remember, this was in August of 2008,  almost 3 months before Obama's election.

Joe Reed and others of his mothers' generation were right on point.  They knew, based on past history, white voters in Alabama wouldn't vote for an African American for President.

 Like other states situated in the Deep South, Alabama is one of the most conservative states in the country where Republicans have dominated presidential elections. The 2008 election was no different as the Yellowhammer State was easily won by John McCain, who carried 54 of the state's 67 counties.

Note the 11 counties won by President Obama are in the black belt, the majority in Davis' district. 

So Davis is right too (pun intended),  white Alabama voters will elect a black governor, if it's the right (pun intended) black.  President Obama was not the right black.



The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.~Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D. MA)



After viewing some of their protest signs, (4.00 / 2)
I find it hard to believe the repukes would want literacy tests!!!

ROTFLMAO! (4.00 / 1)
Now that was funny Gayla!

The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.~Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D. MA)



[ Parent ]
I doubt this will have traction (0.00 / 0)

I doubt that literacy tests or citizenship tests as a requirement to vote will have traction in the state, especially considering that this was outlawed in the Voting Rights act of 1965 and has been upheld by the courts.

The voting access issue that is important to note in this state is the current voter identification law.   In 2003, the Legislature approved a voter id law (this caused a debate back then because it also went through with a bill to restore voting rights to felons after a period of restitution, which was vetoed).  Currently, voters must produce some form of ID, which can be a photo id (drivers licence or employer id), utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, hunting or fishing license, passport, or a number of other things that have name and address of the voter on them.  As you could imagine, Republicans want to strenghten this to require photo ID to vote (it is already on Tim James's campign site).   However, the counter argument is that burdensome ID laws will disenfrancise voters, especially the poor, minorities, and the elderly, who are less likely to have forms of photo ID and are not able to take off work to go to the courthouse to get it.  

One response that addresses both these concerns was offered in this 2008 editorial by Jimmy Carter and James Baker--states offer free ID cards to eligible voters, who would be registered and photgraphed by mobile units, and implement this gradually.  The goal of this approach is to address concerns of both supporters and opponents.

While the tea party rhetoric is interesting, photo ID is the voting rights issue we need to be mindful of because this is the next debate, espeically in Alabama.



The state already offers free Voter registration cards (0.00 / 0)

And who is going to pay for the free photo ID? 

And unless they are going to people's houses to take their photo it's not going to work because people might not have transportation or the time to have a picture made.

The photo ID is a red herring, a wedge issue, a strawman argument.  Red meat for the red states.



The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die.~Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D. MA)



[ Parent ]
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