Spell backwards, forwards.
The current state of the Voting Rights Act.

Sean Toomey, Utah State Bar Communications Director

Please see examples of literacy tests and other links at the bottom of this page.

For black voters in Louisiana in 1964, there may not have been a correct response to the above voter-literacy-test challenge.  This was one of 30 instructions, and if a voter got the other 29 correct, they might have “failed” this one (the “correct” answer could change depending on the answer given).  Visit www.utahbar.org for examples of literacy tests and test your friends and family at your next dinner gathering to demonstrate how much things have changed in 50 years.

The Voting Rights Act was reauthorized by an overwhelming majority in 2006 (98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House), but in its June 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court said Congress must come up with a new formula to determine which counties should be subject to special scrutiny.  Until Congress acts, select counties are no longer required to prove to the Justice Department or a federal court that any proposed changes—from drawing legislative districts to picking polling places—would protect the rights of minorities. 

In the Shelby County opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote, “The Fifteenth Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future.”  Eric Holder, the first African-American attorney general, told legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin that Roberts’s decision “viewed the world as the Justices would like it to be, but not the world as it is.  I think Justice Ginsburg [who wrote the dissenting opinion] said it best when she talked about the fact that you have an umbrella in a rainstorm and that keeps you dry.  The fact that you’re dry doesn’t mean there’s not a rainstorm.  You take the umbrella down and you get wet.  And if people didn’t believe that, you only have to see what the states did after Shelby County.”

Prior to the Shelby County decision, 40% of the counties in North Carolina were subject to preclearance.  Within two months of the decision, North Carolina passed a new state-wide voting law, including ID requirements which did not allow student and public employee IDs.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said the law will protect the integrity of the election process and insisted that the law is necessary to ensure that “no one’s vote is disenfranchised by a fraudulent ballot.” 

Rev. Mark H. Creech of The Christian Post says that, “Over time, North Carolina's voter laws had developed in such a way as to make fraud detection considerably difficult.”  Creech also noted a fraud that was detected, “Citizens in Pasquotank County successfully removed more than 60 voters from their rolls after the 2012 election, but unfortunately, only when the votes had already been counted.  The voters attested that they were residents at the local college, but that didn't prove to be true.”

Last November, Texas required voters to produce a state-approved form of photo identification; concealed handgun licenses that were expired for as many as 60 days were acceptable, but current state university photo IDs were not.  Jim Wright, a former speaker of the U.S. House, had an expired driver’s license and he could not vote until he went home and found a certified copy of his birth certificate. 

Opponents of the Texas law claim that it is merely an attempt to disenfranchise minority voters, who are disproportionately likely to not have a photo ID.  Interviews with opponents and supporters of the new law suggest that the Texas law’s first day went better than critics had expected.
The Justice Department has filed suits against North Carolina and Texas over the new laws, relying on a section of the Voting Rights Act not affected by the Shelby County decision.

Gov. Rick Perry accused AG Holder and President Obama of filing “endless litigation in an effort to obstruct the will of the people of Texas.”  “We will continue to defend the integrity of our elections against this administration’s blatant disregard for the 10th Amendment,” Perry said.  The amendment sets limits on federal powers. 
It will be interesting to see how these cases will be resolved and how current voting rights will be viewed from the perspective of another fifty years.

Utah was never subject to preclearance and its ID laws are less restrictive.  A current state, tribal, or federal ID (driver license, passport, etc.)—or a current concealed weapon permit—is accepted.  Alternatively, voters can present two forms of ID (from a list of 17, including bank statements and college IDs) that list name and address in the precinct.  One can register online, vote by mail (absentee), and vote early in many locations.  See details at www.vote.utah.gov.

Links:

Spell backwards, forwards:  Louisiana Voter Literacy Test ~ circa 1964, http://www.crmvet.org/info/la-littest-orig.pdf and an explanation by Jeff Schwartz about how it was graded, http://www.crmvet.org/nars/schwartz.htm#corelittest.

Tests typical of those used throughout the South before passage of the Voting Rights Act http://www.crmvet.org/info/la-littest2.pdf

Other tests:  http://www.crmvet.org/info/lithome.htm, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2013/06/28/voting_rights_
and_the_supreme_court_the_impossible_literacy_test_louisiana.html

Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act:  http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/misc/sec_4.php

Shelby County v. Holder:  http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-96_6k47.pdf

Justice Department sues Texas over voter ID law:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/justice-department-sues-texas-over-voter-id-law/2013/08/22/ac654a68-0b4b-11e3-9941-6711ed662e71_story.html

Texas’ Stringent Voter ID Law Makes a Dent at Polls:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/07/us/politics/texas-stringent-voter-id-law-makes-a-dent-at-polls.html?_r=0

Justice Department to sue North Carolina over voting law:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/justice-department-to-sue-north-carolina-over-voting-law/2013/09/29/123cbbce-292d-11e3-8ade-a1f23cda135e_story.html

In Defense of North Carolina's Voter ID Law:  http://www.christianpost.com/news/in-defense-of-north-carolinas-voter-id-law-115536/

Texas Election Identification Certificate:  http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/driverlicense/electionid.htm

Utah voting ID requirements:  http://vote.utah.gov/vote/requirements.html