Literacy Tests In, Poll Taxes Out

From Election Law Blog, a discussion of national survey results to several questions. Among them:

I’m heartened by the strong public support for photo ID for voting, but somewhat disturbed that a majority think that we should return literacy tests to our arsenal. Perhaps a fair chunk of those 55% were simply unaware of the sordid history of literacy tests?

On the bright side again, though, there’s near-universal condemnation of a poll tax, and I’ll assume the contrary 3% never read the 24th Amendment.

One frequent complaint about voters, though, is that they’re stupid. This is heard most frequently from liberals when the voters knock down a measure liberals favor. Conservatives never call voters stupid… unless, of course, those stupid voters don’t go the way conservatives wish them to.

So as I look at this 55% favoring a literacy test, I wonder if there’s any argument to be made for literacy tests. Is our revulsion at such tests solely due to the invidious and unequal use made of them in the past? Can we imagine, and support, some sort of neutral, non-discriminatory reading and comprehension test that would allow us to raise the savvy of our voters?

I can’t imagine it even in the abstract, and even if I grant the abstract I can’t imagine the practical application working. But 55% of you (general public, not SDMB, obviously) disagrees with me. So there’s the debate: can we?

On a purely practical note, how does someone vote if they cannot read? IANilliterate, and so maybe I just don’t get it. How can a person enter a voting booth and look at what is posted and respond?

That’s the most likely answer.

People on this board have suggested it from time to time, which I find discouraging. But no, I can’t imagine it and I wouldn’t support it.

Well, my mother is perfectly literate, but (since macular degeneration hit her several years ago) legally blind. When she votes, she gets assistance from one of the poll workers; she advises the worker who she wants to vote for, and the worker presses the requisite buttons.

Or else they are, but believe we have advanced past the point of their relevancy, beyond Jim Crow to a valid test of one’s qualifications to serve as a member of our nation’s Board of Directors.

That from a guy who, not long ago, was willing to charge a fee for a voter ID. :dubious:

Pure Beck/Hannity shit, that. Is this a new “No Well Left Unpoisoned” campaign here?

A sneaky way to make English the “official language”? Which is to ask, are you “illiterate” if you can only read Spanish?

Of course. Thanks!

I think that we’ve advanced enough that literacy tests are no longer really racial. There are some people who are dyslexic (I’m married to one, and have a child who’s also dyslexic), and there are some with vision problems. Most dyslexics are able to learn coping mechanisms. I’m not sure how we’d deal with people with severe dyslexia, though. Since people with various degrees of illiteracy often claim vision problems when they want to have something read to them, I’m not sure if we could just accept someone’s word that they are blind or nearly so.

If someone gets all or most of their “news” from TV, I don’t consider that person to be very well informed. I don’t want someone who only watches Fox News to make political decisions that affect me. FTR, I sometimes watch Fox News, but I also watch news on other stations…and I really get most of my news from print media and the internet. I’ve found that for the most part, TV news often doesn’t cover much in the way of real news, and what coverage there is is often very shallow.

I’ve lived in a country (Spain, for the record) where the dominant language was not English. I had taken a couple of years of Spanish in school, and I was able to follow the Spanish news pretty well. I bought and read Spanish newspapers, just to see what was happening in my area. I admit that I was considered to be rather oddball among the Air Force personnel and their families for doing this, but even though I certainly couldn’t vote in Spanish elections, and I knew that we weren’t going to live there for more than a couple of years, it was a way of keeping myself informed about local and global news. In my opinion, anyone who DOESN’T learn the dominant language in an area, and who insists on only reading and speaking in his/her native tongue, is not someone who is really commited to adjusting to the new country. I admit that I mostly socialized with other US citizens, but I also socialized with, and talked Spanish with, the natives. That was part of living in another country.

I’m in favor of everyone having an official ID. Driver’s license or state ID is fine. I’m also in favor of having a national driver’s license or ID, which states could issue, which would be valid throughout the whole country. I really don’t think that requiring a picture ID is a big burden for most legitimate voters.

I don’t think so; theoretically, even a neutral, fair, reasonable test (which would be hell to come up with, and even more hell to actually get most people to agree to; 55% favouring a literacy test doesn’t mean they all the same idea of what that test would entail), you’re still making the ability to vote dependent on having that savvy, which seems inherently unreasonable to me.

I’d ask a question in return; why must raising the savvy of voters be linked to the ability to vote? Is it not possible to come up with some scheme to educate the public on whatever subjects it is deemed are of worth for the public to know without making a pass a prerequisite for voting? Because if there is, I don’t see that making it so gives any kind of advantage.

Interestingly, the blog post comments on that:

Yea, the idea behind a representative democracy is that you choose someone else to represent your interests, the fact that you may yourself may be an idiot isn’t really relevant.

And as a practical manner, wikipedia says the literacy rate in the US is better then 99%. And I’m guessing that the illiterate are less likely to vote then their well-read peers. So a literacy test would end up costing money and time for the effect of excluding some vanishingly small part of the electorate from the franchise.

I’m an outlier. I oppose photo IDs (for reasons I’ll go into) but think literacy is required.

Why is literacy required? Because if you cannot understand the ballot you shouldn’t vote. Unless a person can somehow distinguish who is who and is able to understand the issues via channels other than independent reading (which is possible). If like your mother they can get help from a poll worker then that is ok. A person can learn pertinent political information from audio instead of from video and reading. But being able to understand a ballot and who you are voting for should be required. I cannot read russian, and if tomorrow I wake up and see a russian ballot with characters I do not understand I shouldn’t have my arbitrary vote counted.

I am against photo IDs because they achieve the same goal of ancient literacy tests, to disenfranchize certain segments of the electorate who would vote in ways which the ones who support these laws do not like.

Groups that lean democratic also are less likely to have photo IDs. Young people (people under 30), blacks, latinos, poor people and the disabled. All groups are far more likely to vote democratic. And republicans generally support these laws. The Bush admin pushed hard for voter ID laws.

SHAPIRO: Chapin says voter ID debates across the country almost always follow party lines. Republicans support, Democrats oppose. People may see that in cynical terms.

Middle class white people generally have photo IDs (and generally vote republican). People who are under 30, nonwhite, poor or disadvantaged are less likely. The end result is millions who want to vote for democratic candidates are not able because of laws passed by republicans.

"Studies show that African-Americans are especially likely not to have the identification necessary to vote on Tuesday. Several other groups, notably elderly voters, disabled voters and young voters, are also more likely than the general population not to have the necessary identification.

As the report noted, a University of Washington study found that 28 percent of African-Americans in the state of Indiana do not have the proper ID to vote. African-Americans make up 9 percent of the voting population in Indiana.

By comparison, slightly less than 20 percent of Indianans over 70 do not have the necessary ID, according to the same study. Older voters tend to favor Hillary Rodham Clinton, while Obama has strong support among youth. According to a recent Rock the Vote poll, 19 percent of people under 30 do not have a valid photo identification with their current address. Since young people move frequently they are less likely to have identification cards with their current address.

And young African-Americans are especially likely to not meet the requirements. A study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that in Milwaukee County, Wis., 74 percent of African-Americans and 66 percent of Hispanics aged 18 to 24 did not have a valid driver’s license — which is the most common form of photo identification.

Experts say that beyond the voters who do not meet the requirements, the law could have a further disproportionate impact on African-Americans because of discouragement and uneven enforcement."

Black voters went Obama 95-5. People under 30 went Obama 66-34. Latinos went Obama about 65-35. The chronically disabled probably went Obama about 65%+ (I once read that is about how heavily they skewed Kerry and Gore in 2004 and 2000 and I’m assuming they’d go the same for Obama).
So I do not support photo ID laws since they are generally endorsed by republicans with the goal of kicking several million democrats off of the rolls (making it harder for blacks, latinos, the young, the poor, the disadvantaged and the disabled to vote). But proving you can understand the ballot (either by reading it, or having someone help you, or having audio) should be required.

I find the lack of IDs amongst people just odd. Would it really hurt the budget if all citizens were assigned IDs for free?

Maybe with the specific wording of the question people condemned the poll tax, but 84% support requiring a photo ID, which is the equivalent of a poll tax. Even if the ID itself is free, people have to take off work to go get it, which costs money, they have to convey themselves to the motor vehicle department or wherever you get the ID, which costs money, etc…

If you support requiring a photo ID to vote, do you also support the elimination of absentee voting, since it is impossible to check the ID of the person who mailed it in?

I vote by covering my eyes and stabbing my finger at the touchscreen. I imagine that illiterate people might do something similar.

And they have to register, which involves some effort as well. But requiring that measure of effort is perfectly acceptable.

No. But I support controls that would decrease the risk of falsification. For example, comparison of signatures from registration to ballot would perhaps be a good approach.

Two points – I think registration can be done completely by mail, but I’m not sure because I registered so long ago. If it can be done by mail, then the effective cost comes down quite a bit – no need to travel to the ID issuing location, take off work, etc.

Second – comparing signatures can be done for in-person voting as well which would obviate the need for voter ID cards. You have been an advocate of those cards for some time and I don’t understand how you can require the cards but still allow absentee voting. I would think a strong advocate of voter ID cards would be against absentee voting – can you clarify your position there?

Wrong. You can get registration forms at the grocery store and mail them in. People go door to door to get people registered.

Interesting. This is exactly the system that was in place in Indiana prior to our newly elected Republican governor terrorizing people into going along with ID laws with stories of rampant fraud.

Republicans’ actions in this case outweigh their words. They say they aren’t trying to disenfranchise anybody. But once governor Daniels got the ID law passed, he unilaterally shut down BMV branches in heavily Democrat districts, including the only BMV branch in the city of Gary, which had issued 65,000 licenses and IDs the year before, leaving no BMV branch accessible by public transportation to poor residents of Gary. This was an unequivocal attempt to disenfranchise Democratic voters, despite his statements to the contrary. Fortunately, the move was so blatant that it could not be explained away, and he was forced under enormous pressure to open a “limited” BMV branch in Gary that would issue IDs, but his scheme was clearly exposed.

What? A stamp is required?!? Help, help, I’m being repressed!

I support a literacy test only in the case where it is one of those bullshit ones where the first instruction is to read all the instructions, the middle instructions are all goofy shit like make an animal noise, and the last instruction is to ignore the middle instructions.

I’d still let the people who made animal noises vote, I just think it’d be fun to have people making animal noises at the polls