"IF YOU CAN'T READ, YOU CAN'T VOTE": The Reemergence of an Old Jim Crow Tactic- Literacy Tests

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 54% of U.S. adults 16-74 years old - about 130 million people - lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. The low literacy rates in America are an ongoing crisis that has been largely disregarded, historically underfunded, and dolefully underresearched, despite being one of the great solvable problems of our time.
With midterm elections right around the corner, voters who struggle to read will confront an election system that relies heavily on literacy and with that, the electoral process can become its own form of literacy test- creating impervious barriers at every step, from registration to casting a ballot. If you factor in decades of voter suppression-particularly in the South- access to the ballot box has always been a struggle, particularly for communities of color, students, the elderly, and the disabled.

(Image: NPR)

Voting should be easy and accessible as possible, and in many cases it is. But as stated in an article posted by ACLU, in recent years, more than 400 anti-voter bills have been introduced in 48 states; and these bills institute unnecessary barriers for people to register to vote, by mail or in person. In relation to that though, for all the recent uproar over voting rights, little attention has been paid to one of the most sustained and brazen suppression campaigns in America: the efforts to block help at the voting booth for people who struggle to read- a group that amounts to about 48 million Americans, or more than a fifth of the adult population.

Those who have been failed by the U.S. education system- often poor, Black and Latino Americans- trying to participate in a system that was designed to bolster some and disenfranchise others in regard to the electoral process, have essentially been put in a position to remain voiceless.

According to an article published by ProRepublica, “Conservative politicians have long used harsh tactics against voters who can’t read… some states have required voters who need help to sign an affidavit explaining why they need assistance; some have prevented voters who couldn’t read from bringing sample ballots to the polls and limited the number of voters that a volunteer could help read a ballot.”

Everything in the process of voting basically involves reading, so it is hardly contestable that the more barriers that you put in front of people, especially those who struggle with reading and comprehension, the more likely it is that they will avoid voting altogether or perhaps vote for the wrong person who does not align with their beliefs or policy views.

We are at a crucial point in our lives, where democracy is hanging on by a thread. Voting is the one tool that we have as citizens that could change the course of our current trajectory. Nov. 8 is approaching and we should all be feeling a sense of urgency to flee to the ballot boxes.

“ It is about the future of democracy at a time when it seems like the views of the majority are being marginalized by the few.”

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