State legislators in North Carolina took a pivotal step toward stripping a racist literacy test requirement from the state Constitution, as some are saying that a renewed proposal “marks the best recent attempt to do so.”
The state Constitution still has the language simply because both legislators and voters have rejected efforts to remove it. But this time around, the momentum seems to be moving in the right direction, and it even has bipartisan support.
Republican Sen. Phil Berger professed his support, saying it “ought to be out of our constitution.”
Rep. Terry Brown, a Democrat and primary sponsor of the bill, is extremely hopeful, “I do believe the stars might be aligning this year for us to finally get this done.”
As it currently stands, the offensive language lies in Article VI, Section 4, and reads: “Every person presenting himself for registration shall be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language.”
It seems odd that the previous attempts to repeal this have been acrimonious, because this provision isn’t even enforceable–– it’s a direct, flagrant violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In order for this attempt to be successful, three-fifths of state legislators are required “to put it on the ballot for the next election,” and on Wednesday, the state House judiciary committee unanimously voted to advance the measure. Next, it’s up to voters to decide whether to remove it.
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity for the John Locke Foundation, Dr. Any Jackson says, “The literacy test was used to strip the voting rights of black North Carolinians,” and warns that “passing this repeal is not a slam dunk,” referencing how voters have failed to repeal it on the ballot in the past.
“I’ve seen the polling …55% [of likely voters] support and the rest either did not support repeal or were unsure. That is an uncomfortably close margin. I would urge all of the folks here, including my brothers and sisters in the nonprofit community, to avoid using repeal as a political bludgeon. There’s a temptation, I think, to try to use any tool you can to attack your opponents in an upcoming election, and if this is used as one of those tools, you could inadvertently drive support [for repeal] down,” Jackson adds.
Rep. Brown is encouraging his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to educate their constituents, “to make sure voters understand the requirement’s racist history. Some worry the change could again be defeated if people think it’s about whether voters should be able to read,” WUNC reports.
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