Lawmakers try again to remove literacy test, a Jim Crow relic, from NC constitution

Posted June 16, 2021 12:46 p.m. EDT
Updated June 16, 2021 1:35 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's constitution still requires a literacy test for voting, a Jim Crow-era tactic used to keep Black voters away from the polls. State House lawmakers are trying again to ask voters to remove it.

Article VI, Section 4 of the state constitution requires that "Every person presenting himself for [voter] registration shall be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language."

In 1965, the federal Voting Rights Act banned the use of literacy tests for voting. Gaston County challenged that provision in court, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the VRA in 1969 and banned North Carolina from using the tests.

In response to the ruling, state lawmakers approved an amendment to remove the requirement from the state constitution. It was put on the ballot in 1970, but North Carolina voters defeated it. So, it's still there.

In 2013 and again in 2019, the House voted to try the constitutional amendment again. But the Senate didn't take either of those bills up, so it hasn't yet made it to the ballot.

Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg, told the House State Government committee Wednesday that both the John Locke Foundation and the North Carolina Bar Association support the amendment. It has bipartisan sponsors and support.

"I believe that this time, if we can get it out with another strong vote, we will have an opportunity in the Senate to have it heard," Alexander said.

House Bill 337, which could be on the House floor for a vote Thursday, would put the issue on the ballot in November 2022.

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