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Take the Impossible “Literacy” Test
June 28, 2013 12:20 PM   Subscribe


 
jesus
posted by grubi at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


30. Draw five circles that one common inter-locking part.

30. Draw five circles that one common inter-locking part.

30. DRAW FIVE CIRCLES THAT ONE COMMON INTER-LOCKING PART.

*
posted by phunniemee at 12:25 PM on June 28, 2013 [57 favorites]


What got me about the first test that Slate posted, is that initially I only saw the first page.

So, I was a little thrown at the first question: 1. Draw a line around the number or letter of this sentence. But eventually I figured that you need to break the 4th wall a little and circle the number 1, and I was a little frazzled by spending so much of my 10 minutes on first question of the 13 and I was confident that I (a college educated Negro of all people) should be able to finish in time.

And then I realized that there were two more pages.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:30 PM on June 28, 2013 [40 favorites]


Thank you, Supreme Court.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:33 PM on June 28, 2013 [20 favorites]


"20. Spell backwards, forwards.
21. Print the word vote upside down, but in the correct order"

You know, I took AP American history, and we talked a lot about poll tests, but I don't ever recall actually seeing one.
posted by muddgirl at 12:34 PM on June 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


It's like, mustachio-twistingly diabolical.
posted by muddgirl at 12:35 PM on June 28, 2013 [16 favorites]


a single wrong answer meant a failing grade

!!!
posted by ogooglebar at 12:35 PM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Wow. Did Louisiana even bother making up an answer key?
posted by 2N2222 at 12:36 PM on June 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


I knew this sort of thing went on, but I'd never seen one of the actual tests before. I can't even really make words out of my completely gob-smacked reaction to the Louisiana test.
posted by sparkletone at 12:37 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is sickening in a really particular and unexpected way. The fact that it's impossible to parse out which bits are deliberate tricks or loopholes, which bits are mistakes or typos, which bits are just nonsense. The fact even though I know the deal, part of my brain keeps trying to figure out the answers, and that part of my brain is starting to feel like the part that is secure in knowing that the world is not rigged against ME.

Ugh.
posted by yarrow at 12:38 PM on June 28, 2013 [41 favorites]


Every day, I'm reminded of the Bob Roberts album title "The Times They Are A-Changin' Back".
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:39 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]





Wow, this is sickening in a really particular and unexpected way. The fact that it's impossible to parse out which bits are deliberate tricks or loopholes, which bits are mistakes or typos, which bits are just nonsense. The fact even though I know the deal, part of my brain keeps trying to figure out the answers, and that part of my brain is starting to feel like the part that is secure in knowing that the world is not rigged against ME.


Yeah, all of this. I kind of knew it would be bad, but I didn't expect it to be so mindblowingly confusing, even for highly literate people such as myself, people in this thread or Slate readers. I gave up a third of the way through because it was just too confusing and depressing.
posted by sweetkid at 12:41 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


This looks like something out of the April Fools edition of Games Magazine.
posted by demiurge at 12:41 PM on June 28, 2013 [35 favorites]


“Write every other word in this first line and print every third word in same line (original type smaller and first line ended at comma) but capitalize the fifth word that you write.”

WTF!!
posted by Vindaloo at 12:41 PM on June 28, 2013


but I don't ever recall actually seeing one.

I feel like it gives a whole new perspective to the whole "literacy tests" issue. Yes, it's obviously the case that it's not fair to demand full literacy of people who are systematically being denied an education. But there was always a part of me that was kind of like -- well, if we _can_ give everyone at least an "I am literate" eduation (and literacy rates in the US, even amongst underserved communities are in the high 90s nowadays), what would be the harm of making sure that they are, in fact, at least possessed with the intelligence to read the ballot in todays day and age?

For whatever reason (naïve Canadianity, I think) it never occured to me that the tests would be this rigged.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:42 PM on June 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why were we never shown examples of these kinds of tests hands-on when we studied the Jim Crow era in school? Actually seeing these things for what they were really drives home the reality and ugliness of the mindset of the people who pushed for and promoted these things.

It puts me in mind of the Southern prison guard stereotype you see all the time in the movies, where the crusty old guard barks out some impossibly tricky order and then punishes the prisoner regardless of their response--something like "Boy, you must think I'm either a clown or an asshole with that look on your face... So which is it? Answer the question I asked you, dammit. Oh, so you think I'm a clown huh?" with a hard night-stick poke to the ribs either way.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:43 PM on June 28, 2013 [26 favorites]


Wow, this really makes me want to set people on fire.
posted by elizardbits at 12:45 PM on June 28, 2013 [51 favorites]


Eeeeeeeeeeeeevil.

There's something heartbreaking for me seeing the language of logic and puzzles being used for unresconstructed evil.
posted by medusa at 12:47 PM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


So basically you had to pass Hell's version of the LSAT if you were a minority and you wanted to vote?

Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezus
posted by WidgetAlley at 12:48 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Here's a test I was given in second grade by a couple of schoolmates, one girl and one boy (all of us white) who pulled me aside on the playground in Baton Rouge, LA in 1967:

"Do you know what a nigger is?"
posted by telstar at 12:49 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thank you, Supreme Court.

Kennedy stood up, triumphant, with fists raised to the sky and shouted a single word: FEDERALISM!
posted by filthy light thief at 12:50 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the Louisiana test, I'm having a really hard time differentiating between the unintended grammatical mistakes and intended obfuscation.

Cross out the number necessary, when making the number below one million.
10000000000


Do they mean "Cross out the numerals necessary to make the number below one million"? Am I supposed to make the number equal to one million or below one million? Should I cross out the one? Cross out four zeros? Cross out somewhere between five and ten of the zeros? Aaaaargh
posted by whitecedar at 12:51 PM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Good lord, handing these out for a class of high-school or college students with the 10 minute limit would make a much clearer lesson than most.

"Use your main finger to turn the middle part top-wise."
posted by angerbot at 12:52 PM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


So basically you had to pass Hell's version of the LSAT if you were a minority and you wanted to vote?

There's no such thing as passing when there are multiple potential right answers and a racist is doing the grading.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:52 PM on June 28, 2013 [56 favorites]


And like, do they mean 999,999, the number below one million? MAYBE.
posted by elizardbits at 12:52 PM on June 28, 2013


I could swear our 5th grade teacher gave us a test like this, for fun on a rainy day when we couldn't go outside for recess. Who knew?
posted by benito.strauss at 12:52 PM on June 28, 2013


Yes, exactly. The point is that all your answers will be incorrect as long as you are not white.
posted by elizardbits at 12:53 PM on June 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I too, in my innocence, thought the "literacy tests" were primarily unfair not because the test itself was poorly (and maliciously) written. I'd assumed they were simple, reasonable tests of literacy (e.g. read a simple paragraph and answer a straightforward question about its contents) because that would maintain the illusion that it was "fair" to ask voters to be literate. But since only black people were asked to take them -- illiterate whites weren't -- the tests became unfairly applied. But, no, it turns out the literacy tests are crazy impossible and even smart, literate people would fail. But, again, only black people would be asked to take them.

US history courses usually have a section on Jim Crow, etc. It should be a standard part of that section to actually read voting literacy tests and maybe even take them in class (though obviously not counting as part of the grade!) It's one thing to be told there were these unfair literacy tests. It's quite another to read these and think about how you would answer each one, realizing that if you messed up one (even assuming fair grading!) you couldn't vote.
posted by R343L at 12:53 PM on June 28, 2013 [21 favorites]


Cross out the number necessary when making the number below one million.

10000000000


My guess it that it's designed to be ambiguous so that they can fail you no matter how you answer. The ambiguity of the word 'below' means that there are two possible interpretations. Does 'below' mean 'underneath' in which case the answer is 10000000000 or does it mean 'less than' in which case the answer is 10000000000? Obviously the correct answer will be the one the test taker didn't choose.
posted by metaphorever at 12:54 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember being given examples in my seventh grade history class of the 'read out loud' model, including having two kids demonstrate. I remember being told afterwards that it wasn't uncommon for her the kid given the harder passage to not get through it, or to be asked to stop because it was obvious that the pressure was getting to them. Occasionally there'd be tears.

Which, kind of harsh, but the more and more I learn about other people's history classes, the more I've begun to to cherish my teachers (this is the same class that started with a debate on slave reparations on the first day and had a talk on the origins of AAVE).
posted by dinty_moore at 12:55 PM on June 28, 2013


I think I've encountered tests like these in a couple of unpleasant anxiety dreams, and while taking the test realized I was also not wearing pants.
posted by aught at 12:56 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh ... wow:

"In the space below, write the word "noise" backwards and place a dot over what would be its second letter should it have been written forward."

So if you put a dot over the letter "i", you fail?
posted by CrayDrygu at 12:56 PM on June 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Why were we never shown examples of these kinds of tests hands-on when we studied the Jim Crow era in school?

Because it's unpleasant and makes people feel bad. Same reason we don't show schoolkids pictures of Emmitt Till or Will Brown or Jesse Washington, and why I've run into the occasional doofus who thinks that the civil rights struggle was about water fountains instead of life and death.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:56 PM on June 28, 2013 [72 favorites]


This was really interesting to flip through. I'm kind of depressed by how so many of us relatively informed, interested people had never seen a literacy test before today, and it potentially speaks to the sanitization of our history.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Related: The impossible tests Moscow University gave to Jewish prospective math students.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, all of this. I kind of knew it would be bad, but I didn't expect it to be so mindblowingly confusing

I've often said things were "mind-boggling," but this was quite literally mind-boggling: a mind-confounding maze of vicious anti-logic. My brain kept scrambling to provide correct answers even as part of it hollered "THERE ARE NO DEFINITE CORRECT ANSWERS, THAT IS THE POINT."

I knew the so-called literacy tests were evil, as tools of oppression always are. But until just now, I didn't realize how completely and diabolically evil they were, and how hellishly effective.
posted by Elsa at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


I almost feel like every kid in the country should be handed a test like this at some point in their high school career, told they have 10 minutes and not to get anything wrong. Just to make the punch-in-the-gut point about what racism is like.
posted by graymouser at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2013 [22 favorites]


If "below" means "less than," there are many possible answers:

10000000000
10000000000
10000000000
10000000000
10000000000
10000000000
10000000000
10000000000

and so on.

I'm surprised the next question wasn't "How many valid answers are there to the preceding question?"
posted by whitecedar at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So if you put a dot over the letter "i", you fail?

Yes. You also fail if you don't put a dot over the letter "i".
posted by ogooglebar at 12:57 PM on June 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


Why were we never shown examples of these kinds of tests hands-on when we studied the Jim Crow era in school?

FWIW, in my 7th grade social studies class, we were specifically told that literacy tests were tests in the vein of "how many feathers are on a chicken" and "please recite the Eleventh Amendment in full, from memory." Mere literacy would not get you through them.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:58 PM on June 28, 2013


10000000000.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:59 PM on June 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Cross out the number necessary when making the number below one million.

10000000000

What do I win?
posted by grog at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2013


But that question also just says number, not numbers.
posted by Groundhog Week at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2013


Cross out the number necessary when making the number below one million.

This one gets worse the more you think about it. 0 is a number, but 00 and 000 and 0000 are just strings of digits.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2013


Oh man, second place!?!
posted by grog at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2013


Now think about how voter ID is going to work for whites versus blacks-and-Latinos.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2013 [31 favorites]


Bah! Too slow.
posted by Groundhog Week at 1:00 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


ugh i just want to travel back in time and punch all the people
posted by elizardbits at 1:01 PM on June 28, 2013 [30 favorites]


I'm surprised the next question wasn't "How many valid answers are there to the preceding question?"

And that answer to that question is "there are no valid answers" which will also be counted as incorrect because the real answer is "be white".
posted by metaphorever at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


Bad puzzle-oriented (IQ/CT/reasoning/logic/etc.) tests make me furious even when they are not used by racist asshats to deny people their right to vote...
posted by Fists O'Fury at 1:04 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


This test is actually less duplicitous that I expected, but it is still HORRIBLE.

Related: The impossible tests Moscow University gave to Jewish prospective math students.

Now that's just mean.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:06 PM on June 28, 2013


There's something heartbreaking for me seeing the language of logic and puzzles being used for unreconstructed evil.

I see what you did there.

Also, man alive, these tests are disgusting.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:07 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


18. Look at the line of numbers below, and place on the blank, the number that should come next.

3 6 9 ____ 15


If you put 12 in the blank, "next" means "after 15". If you put 18 in the blank, "next" means "after 9".
posted by 23skidoo at 1:08 PM on June 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


Seems like somebody may have wanted to give the writer of this test a literacy exam.


LOL kidding, of course they wouldn't.
posted by General Malaise at 1:19 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. I honestly don't think we'll see tests like this again. They're just going to start making laws that you need to show up with impossible documentation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:23 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Amazing. I'm saving this for the next time I run a game of Paranoia.
posted by rifflesby at 1:24 PM on June 28, 2013 [21 favorites]


OMG, just reading those tests is stressing me out in the particular, heart-thumping way that happens when you dream you show up for a torts exam but it's full of calculus and you didn't study either one and also you're naked. My heart is literally racing just reading through those and trying to guess what the questions mean. And I'm just some jerk reading history on the internet. I can't even imagine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:28 PM on June 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


One of my favorite kinds of puzzles in Dell Pencil Puzzles and Word Games was a type where you'd get a long complicated set of instructions for turning one word into another. They'd be things like "Turn the third H into an E," "Write the last 6 letters backwards," and "Remove the second letter after each F." If you followed the list of about 20 of them precisely, you'd get the new word, but if you fucked up even one instruction, all the following ones wouldn't work out and your puzzle would just get further and further from being correct.

Some of the questions on the Louisiana test remind me of those puzzles, except they've deliberately made the instructions not make any fucking sense.

And then applied an almost impossible time limit.

Christ, what a bunch of assholes.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:38 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


what would be the harm of making sure that they are, in fact, at least possessed with the intelligence to read the ballot in todays day and age

I'm going to be honest and admit that out of frustration with the level of political discourse I saw when I was 18 or 19 or so, I thought some kind of test might be a good idea before people could vote. In that particularly arrogant smart-ass undergrad sort of way, you know, watching man-on-the-street interviews on the news and saying "if that's your reason for voting so-and-so, you don't even understand enough about the differences to be choosing one over the other".

I wish someone had shown me these back then.
posted by Hoopo at 1:38 PM on June 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


This test makes me feel ashamed. Today.

I hope the authors are burning as we speak.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:39 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


My grandmother, born in SC in 1928, told me once that "everyone knew" that white people were either not given a test or were given something like a first grade primer whereas non whites were given very difficult passages. I cna't recall if she said they were always in English; they may have been legal things with lots of Latin. i'm going to call and see if she remembers.

I also recall that she just thought that was the way it always was and will be and she was embarrassed that she didn't think more deeply about it than that.
posted by pointystick at 1:39 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


25. (Paraphrased)

Write down the following:

Paris
in the
the spring.


that is my favorite(?)
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:40 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


My US History teacher in high school handed out mimeographed copies of a literacy test from a Southern state (don't remember which one anymore). We were shocked into silence.
posted by rtha at 1:42 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


What kind of responses did tests like these receive? I assume some would actually try to fill it out. Did people study for it? Was there any coaching or training? Did others go, but give up when they saw the test? Did others stay home because they heard the test was impossible?
posted by michaelh at 1:43 PM on June 28, 2013


27. Write right from the left to the right as you see it spelled here.

Holy hell, what does that even mean?

Part of me just wants to think that the average grade 6 student in Louisiana was really, really smart, because the alternative is just too vile.

Smart alec best answer to number 24 would be "A".
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:45 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy hell, what does that even mean?

Presumably you write either "right" or "right from the left to the right," and the correct answer is whichever one you didn't pick.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:48 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


This test reads like Slylock Fox and Encyclopedia Brown became stooges of horribly racist state Interests. I imagine it turned out especially poorly for the fox.

To be fair, this test would be ok if all voters had to take it, and it was blind scored. Elections would hinge on, like, two votes, but, still.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:48 PM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Did people study for it?

Well, according to the article "In many cases, people working within the movement collected these in order to use them in voter education..."

So I guess people did try to study.
posted by Mayhembob at 1:50 PM on June 28, 2013


Thank you, Supreme Court.

I understand how you feel. The Court's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder is frustrating. We look at these tests and say, "See how bad things used to be? This is why we need the Voting Rights Act!" What is even more maddening is that the other side looks at these tests and says, "See how bad things used to be? This is why we don't need the Voting Rights Act!"
posted by ogooglebar at 1:51 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Actually I think the other side looks at these tests and sees "the good ol' days."
posted by Navelgazer at 1:52 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


By the way, these don't happen any more. Take your anger at this and update it to these images of black people waiting in line to vote.

Reasons.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:54 PM on June 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


Today's tests are only slightly more possible trick questions:

1. John is supporting a family of 5 on the income he earns from 3 part time jobs in a county where unemployment is 8.8%. If he owns no car and therefore never got a driver's license, but now needs to travel 15 miles to get to the DMV and apply for his unnecessary driver's license between the hours of 9am and 5pm, in the space provided below write a convincing argument to any of his three managers how much of his shift John should be allowed to miss without being fired and losing 1/3 of his family's income. For full credit, write this essay in a language other than your mother tongue. Your essay will be judged on grammar, word choice, and convincingness.
posted by jermsplan at 1:54 PM on June 28, 2013 [95 favorites]


See also:

Grandfather Clause:
The concept originated in late nineteenth-century legislation and constitutional amendments passed by a number of U.S. Southern states, which created new literacy and property restrictions on voting, but exempted those whose ancestors (grandfathers) had the right to vote before the Civil War. The intent and effect of such rules was to prevent poor and illiterate African American former slaves and their descendants from voting, but without denying poor and illiterate whites the right to vote.
posted by mosk at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Write down the following:

Paris
in the
the spring.


That's not even a literacy test. It's a parsing test and one that is well known to mess people up.

Accordion to recent studies, most people won't even notice if you stick an big musical instrument at the beginning of a sentence.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2013 [45 favorites]


Paris
in the
the spring.


Obviously, the test was written by the makers of Attack of The The Eye Creatures.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:58 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


By the way, these don't happen any more. Take your anger at this and update it to these images of black people waiting in line to vote.

Now think about how voter ID is going to work for whites versus blacks-and-Latinos.


To borrow from my earlier comment in the Holder thread, we don't have to think about it, it's already happening exactly as planned.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:02 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Circle the first, first letter of the alphabet in this line.

I mean what?
posted by sweetkid at 2:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Circle the first, first letter of the alphabet in this line.

I mean what?


If you are white, circle the first instance of the letter "a". If you are not, it doesn't matter what you circle.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:07 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


That is like a masters class in ambiguous questions.

They want me to cross out the digits in the number below or cross out digits to make the number written below less than on million?

Fuck it, I'll take my D and and be happy.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:08 PM on June 28, 2013


32. What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
posted by baniak at 2:08 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I hate to be That Guy, but is that insane 1964 Louisiana test the real McCoy? It looks like it was rewritten in Microsoft Word, all with the default numbered list spacing and Times New Roman. Which is fine - someone could have retyped the questions from a real test - but the 1963 Louisiana test on the same site is obviously a scan of an original document from the 60s, and while it's still long and arcane it doesn't include any Mensa-gone-wrong mindbenders. I don't doubt at all that literacy tests were a tool of white supremacist oppression, but I'd like to make sure this is real before forwarding it to everyone I know.
posted by theodolite at 2:09 PM on June 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


African or European? ISWYDT
posted by ogooglebar at 2:10 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


But there was always a part of me that was kind of like -- well, if we _can_ give everyone at least an "I am literate" eduation (and literacy rates in the US, even amongst underserved communities are in the high 90s nowadays), what would be the harm of making sure that they are, in fact, at least possessed with the intelligence to read the ballot in todays day and age?

Most of the people are illiterate (which is way more people than the purported 99% literacy rate the US claims would lead you to believe) aren't 'too stupid to vote' or something. Instead, they got shafted by the school system, which likely failed to recognise dyslexia or another learning disability making it harder for them to learn to read and then sometimes failed to recognise that they hadn't learned to read. There's a lot of stigma attached to being illiterate (precisely because you're presumed stupid) and people will go to great lengths to hide it, which means that even though the school or library in your town wants to teach you to read, you may never ask them to.
posted by hoyland at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Accordion to recent studies, most people won't even notice if you stick an big musical instrument at the beginning of a sentence.

Hey. Hey. Don't be him. Don't be that guy.

Do know what the definition of a gentleman is?

A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn't.
posted by Naberius at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


theodolite, it seems to have come from here
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2013


"divide a vertical line in two equal parts by bisecting it with a curved horizontal line that is only straight at its spot bisection of the vertical"

wait what
posted by kagredon at 2:13 PM on June 28, 2013


Circle the first, first letter of the alphabet in this line.

I mean what?

If you are white, circle the first instance of the letter "a". If you are not, it doesn't matter what you circle.


I mean, I'm not white but I understand the answer to the question. I just think the wording of this and everything else in the quizzes is ridiculous.
posted by sweetkid at 2:14 PM on June 28, 2013


Well, I didn't have a migraine when I started clicking through these things.... Now I do! Thanks, institutionalized racism!
posted by RainyJay at 2:14 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


That gave my ADHD-addled brain an instant headache and made me frustrated and angry, and I'm just doing it for fun while sitting in my dining room.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Print the word upside down, but in the correct order

I have no idea what this means.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


11. A citizen who desires to vote on election day must, before that date, go before the election officers and--

a. register.

b. pay all of his bills.

c. have his picture taken.


This question somehow seems in particularly bad taste.
posted by Hoopo at 2:16 PM on June 28, 2013


My freshman year of college, I took a history class where one day the professor handed out something like this as an actual surprise exam with no outside context and gave people just 20 minutes to finish it. As we began, he told us the exam would be 20% of our grade. 20 minutes pass. He collected the papers, made a show of dropping the whole pile into the garbage, scowled and said, "You all failed."

Madness. The whole lecture hall erupted. As we're all completely freaking out, he calmly turned on the overhead projector and began teaching us about state citizenship applications and voter literacy tests from the South prior to civil rights and during the Jim Crow era.

Very powerful lesson.
posted by zarq at 2:18 PM on June 28, 2013 [91 favorites]


I mean, I'm not white but I understand the answer to the question. I just think the wording of this and everything else in the quizzes is ridiculous.

Of course you understand it. I did not intend any offense at all. And by "you," I meant the hypothetical test-taker, not you, sweetkid.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:20 PM on June 28, 2013


"7. Above the letter X make a small cross. Set it on fire."
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2013 [21 favorites]


No, I didn't mean that as WHAT ARE YOU SAYING as it came out ogooglebar, it's just, I was just snarking about the ridiculousness of the questions, too, and also I wonder how clear it is that all the white people taking the test (if they had to take it in the first place) would get it right.
posted by sweetkid at 2:22 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


rifflesby: Amazing. I'm saving this for the next time I run a game of Paranoia.

That is BRILLIANT.

Thinking about it, the whole concern over illiterate people voting as a bugaboo of the right is misplaced to begin with. Think: if someone who couldn't read were to vote, they would end up either failing to fill out the ballot correctly, or would vote for random people and thus, statistically, produce with other illiterate voters a null result. There's no need to keep people who can't read away from the polls; instead, people should learn to read in order to become effective voters.

Those teachers above who gave these tests to their students are Today's Favorite People.
posted by JHarris at 2:24 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine that the only white people who would have had to take the test would be those who had pissed off the town fathers in some way (especially or only if they were poor). They would also fail.
posted by rtha at 2:24 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how clear it is that all the white people taking the test (if they had to take it in the first place) would get it right.

Many of them probably didn't have to, but those who did probably passed it by virtue of being a white person handing it to the person collecting the tests.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:24 PM on June 28, 2013


Even just straight up refusing to let people vote would actually piss me off less than this bullshit. There's something a little less angrifying somehow about honest, straightforward evil. But evil intent wrapped up in transparently dishonest nonsense that aims to provide only the thinnest veneer of plausible deniability...and not even a sincere, credible attempt to make the deniability genuinely plausible....damn that's even more angrifying.

And then the incompetence and illiteracy of the test-writers on top of it all...and the fact that this actually works to their advantage...

Just goddamn the whole thing.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:25 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


That gave my ADHD-addled brain an instant headache and made me frustrated and angry, and I'm just doing it for fun while sitting in my dining room.
posted by The corpse in the library


I thought you said you were in the library.
posted by workerant at 2:25 PM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I want to go back in time and force all the creators of this test and its ilk to take it themselves, with the entire text translated into l33t and chatspeak, and then when they are two questions from the end BEAT THEM TO DEATH WITH A ROCK.
posted by nicebookrack at 2:26 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


11. A citizen who desires to vote on election day must, before that date, go before the election officers and--

a. register.

b. pay all of his bills.

c. have his picture taken.


Both a. and c. are now correct answers. At least, you now have to have had your picture taken and placed on a government approved ID card.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:28 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


if someone who couldn't read were to vote, they would end up either failing to fill out the ballot correctly, or would vote for random people and thus, statistically, produce with other illiterate voters a null result.
The theory, I suppose, is that an illiterate voter could be given a sample ballot (by an outside agitator, no doubt) illustrating how to fill out the actual ballot, thus successfully voting, but not knowing who for. Or something like that.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:29 PM on June 28, 2013


the end BEAT THEM TO DEATH WITH A ROCK.

uh oh no that bit at the end is all wrong
posted by sweetkid at 2:29 PM on June 28, 2013


ogooglebar: "I understand how you feel. The Court's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder is frustrating. We look at these tests and say, "See how bad things used to be? This is why we need the Voting Rights Act!" What is even more maddening is that the other side looks at these tests and says, "See how bad things used to be? This is why we don't need the Voting Rights Act!""

The VRA wasn't struck down over the basis of whether or not it was good or necessary. The law was struck down because its enforcement provisions were arbitrary and difficult to justify in 2013. Even though the outcome really sucks in this case, this is exactly the sort of reasoning that one would want to see coming from the courts.

SCOTUS even warned Congress in 2009 that the law was likely invalid, and that Congress should amend the problematic sections of the law if it wanted to be in the clear. In fact, the rest of the act still stands, and congress remains free to fix the enforcement provisions.

If you want to blame somebody, blame the politicians who are blocking meaningful reform of the VRA; not the courts.
posted by schmod at 2:29 PM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Could God create a weight so heavy that even He could not lift? Hint: The test proctor is a Southern Baptist on his mother's side."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:32 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. Like many other people here, this test produced real heart-pounding anxiety in me. I can't imagine having my actual right to vote be predicated on such a thing.
posted by KathrynT at 2:34 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


theodolite, it seems to have come from here

Yeah, the link to the 1963 test I posted above comes from this page, where it's linked right above the 1964 test we're all talking about. Both the 1963 test (which is definitely still super fucked up!) and 1964 test are discussed on that page, but it doesn't say where the scans came from. I've been googling phrases from the test but only finding similar modern versions of it, mostly from K-12 school websites, like here and here.
posted by theodolite at 2:34 PM on June 28, 2013


I think that just broke my brain just a little bit, and I am not kidding at all.

Can you imagine trying to read that when tripping?
posted by edgeways at 2:35 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you want to blame somebody, blame the politicians who are blocking meaningful reform of the VRA; not the courts.

Oh, I do blame the politicians. The ruling is frustrating because Congress didn't take the Court's warning.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:37 PM on June 28, 2013


Circle the first, first letter of the alphabet in this line.

I mean what?

If you are white, circle the first instance of the letter "a". If you are not, it doesn't matter what you circle.


I think the trick is that if you only circle "a," they count it wrong because "first, first letter of the alphabet" could mean to circle the first instance of the letter "a" or it could mean to circle both the first letter and the first letter of the alphabet in the sentence (so you should have circled "c" as well).

I mean yes, the real trick is massive racism ...
posted by Bookhouse at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thank you for posting this. I am going to give the Louisiana test to my kids when they have completed their fifth-grade education, and use that as a gateway into discussing racial inequality in the US.
posted by davejay at 2:38 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


mind you, we discuss it now, but this test makes it so VIVID
posted by davejay at 2:39 PM on June 28, 2013


So actually, the problem with this test is less the test itself than the incredibly unfair race-based scoring:

(from http://www.crmvet.org/nars/schwartz.htm#corelittest -)

The same crazy unfairness was apparent in question 27. It was not a test of literacy at all. Question 27 read: "Write right from the left to the right as you see it spelled here." If a Black person were to print the answer, he/she would be failed because it says "write" so cursive writing was required. Not so for white people. If a Black person were to write "right" he/she would be failed. Why? Because, the registrar would say, you're supposed to write "right from the left to the right". If a Black person were to write "right from the left to the right", he/she would be failed. Why? Because, the registrar would say, you're supposed to write "right from the left to the right as you see it here." But not for white applicants; for them, any answer would be accepted.


... and so on. That is a huge, huge issue. It is blatantly unfair. But it's also pretty easy to deal with.

Would these tests have been unfair had the grading been completely race neutral with a well-defined answer sheet? Or is the situation that people who are opposed to literacy testing are opposed to testing, period, and this will just become a sort of strawman.
posted by rr at 2:43 PM on June 28, 2013



I think the trick is that if you only circle "a," they count it wrong because "first, first letter of the alphabet" could mean to circle the first instance of the letter "a" or it could mean to circle both the first letter and the first letter of the alphabet in the sentence (so you should have circled "c" as well).


Yeah I wondered about the repetition of 'first' and what the significance was.

I still think the answer is probably just "a" though because there's no "and" to signify more than one answer.

But then again this whole thing is WTF racist crap so
posted by sweetkid at 2:44 PM on June 28, 2013


From the first test:

Cross out the longest word in this line

Could be answered in any of these ways:

Cross out the longest word in this line
Cross out the longest word in this line
Cross out the longest word in this line

Most of the questions have two or more valid answers, and getting one wrong means failing the test. So presumably they made the tests long so that people would get flustered, feel confused and overwhelmed, and ultimately worry that the problem was them and not the test. The tests, I think, were done this way not just to keep people from voting, but to make those people feel demoralized beyond simply failing the test. Insidious and cruel.
posted by davejay at 2:46 PM on June 28, 2013


So actually, the problem with this test is less the test itself than the incredibly unfair race-based scoring:

No, it's deliberately ambiguous and obfuscating. The unfair scoring is built into the questions as written.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:46 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Draw a line around...

One thing that keeps tripping in my mind is that a circle isn't a line...
posted by hwyengr at 2:49 PM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


One thing that keeps tripping in my mind is that a circle isn't a line...

I'm pretty sure that's one of the gotchas in the test.
posted by Noms_Tiem at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2013


32. What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

African or European?

(There's only one right answer...)
posted by madajb at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2013


No, it's deliberately ambiguous and obfuscating. The unfair scoring is built into the questions as written.

If the scoring was not racially biased, that wouldn't have mattered unless you think that white people are somehow better at dealing with ambiguity.

That's not the point, though. Many people talk about the evils of literacy tests without ever having seen them and now feel justified in their positions because of these examples of incredibly unfair tests applied in a directly racially biased way. They are incredible but the scoring was the *primary* issue with regard to disenfranchisement.

Again: the issue is the scoring. A test that is hard or random is hard or random for everyone, the problem here was whites were given easier scoring (or entirely different tests).
posted by rr at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2013


> Would these tests have been unfair had the grading been completely race neutral with a well-defined answer sheet?

Yes, because the questions themselves are not reasonably related to literacy, even if you believe in the purpose of literacy as a prerequisite to voting. It purports to test someone's comprehension skills, but only questions that have one unambiguous answer can achieve that goal (unless all possible meanings are accepted as correct answers).
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought that too, but then was like well sometimes if people are standing in a line, the line is said to wind around...

I HATE THIS
posted by sweetkid at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2013


Actually I think the other side looks at these tests and sees "the good ol' days."

Maybe some do, but the really scary thing is that there are a lot of people on the other side who don't. They sincerely believe that there is no racism in America, but that their elections are being stolen by hundreds of thousands of fraudulent voters, and that Voter ID is their only defense.
posted by ogooglebar at 2:54 PM on June 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Again: the issue is the scoring.

That's like saying that if I punch you in the face, the problem is the part where my fist impacts your nose, and everything up to that point was perfectly fine and in no way indicative of ill intent. The tests were designed from the ground up to allow scorers to fail "undesirable" voters regardless of what answers they gave. Literacy was never an actual concern.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:55 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


It should be noted that these tests are crazy, yes. But other states had literacy tests that weren't this obviously bonkers, but were still bad. Asking trivia questions, doing math problems, any test that asks anything other than the meaning of a simple English sentence is not a literacy test, but a different kind of test, and probably one designed to fail some people who can read.
posted by JHarris at 2:55 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would these tests have been unfair had the grading been completely race neutral with a well-defined answer sheet? Or is the situation that people who are opposed to literacy testing are opposed to testing, period, and this will just become a sort of strawman.

why not both? I mean, I think that the reality that "testing" was really just a figleaf for racial discrimination is the main point here, and the awfulness of that does and should overshadow any discussion of the test's merit, but even if there'd been a defined answer key and blind grading, I'm not really sure why being able to divine whether the question writer was looking for "right" or "right from left to right" has anything to do with being literate or an informed voter.
posted by kagredon at 2:56 PM on June 28, 2013


You know, I just thought of something sadder than this test.

What's sadder is that I'm sure at that time, illiteracy was a much more prevalent problem than it is today. A real, truly widespread problem. Not at all a "small" problem.

And that all you had to say was, "There will be a literacy test," and many people would just stay home, knowing that even if the test was completely "fair" and NOT rigged, they still couldn't pass it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:00 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's more probable that people were staying home because they understood that "literacy' was code for "whiteness."
posted by kagredon at 3:01 PM on June 28, 2013


Even a straight-up, completely race-blind literacy test, in the context of the time and place, would have been a proxy for disenfranchising a disproportionate amount of minority voters, which is the only purpose of them.

Exactly as the only purpose of Voter ID is to disenfranchise minority voters.

And in both cases, the dirt-stupid "genius" of the maneuver is getting people to argue the frankly irrelevant questions of whether the policies are evenly applied and whether the wording makes them facially neutral and everything else that doesn't actually matter because minority voters are being disenfranchised in the meantime.

Some days I just can't even deal.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:02 PM on June 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


The law was struck down because its enforcement provisions were arbitrary and difficult to justify in 2013.

That's not really true.

Even though the outcome really sucks in this case, this is exactly the sort of reasoning that one would want to see coming from the courts.

You mean the reasoning where they called a law unconstitutional without ever once mentioning which part of the Constitution it violated? Or where they basically argued that because the law prevented discrimination, that mean there wasn't much discrimination anymore? Or where they disregarded a ton of data that would have made their argument inconvenient? Or where they turned around the very next day and said the exact opposite?

SCOTUS even warned Congress in 2009 that the law was likely invalid, and that Congress should amend the problematic sections of the law if it wanted to be in the clear. In fact, the rest of the act still stands, and congress remains free to fix the enforcement provisions.

First of all, that isn't their job, and second, the process is broken, something at the very least Chief Justice Roberts knew, given that it was previously his job to try and destroy the VRA.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:04 PM on June 28, 2013 [30 favorites]


It's diabolical because it's a big old fuck-you to voting activists. Imagine you've been voting in Louisiana with the old poll tests. You know they're rigged so that your test is much harder than the supposedly-equal test for white uneducated voters, but you've organized and educated yourselves and you can read off hard parts of the constitution, and show up at the polls in 1964 and they put this in front of you. I think the poll workers fully expected even educated black voters to take one look at the test and walk away, chastised for ever thinking they could have a place in the civilized world.
posted by muddgirl at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ok folks. Now you know why the rabid right is so fearful of the changing color of this country. They just assume that since when they were in power and used such blatantly cruel methods to frustrate non whites that a future dark colored U.S. citizenry will do the same thing to them, by then, marginalized whites.
posted by notreally at 3:14 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the scoring was not racially biased, that wouldn't have mattered unless you think that white people are somehow better at dealing with ambiguity.

That's not the point, though. Many people talk about the evils of literacy tests without ever having seen them and now feel justified in their positions because of these examples of incredibly unfair tests applied in a directly racially biased way. They are incredible but the scoring was the *primary* issue with regard to disenfranchisement.

Again: the issue is the scoring. A test that is hard or random is hard or random for everyone, the problem here was whites were given easier scoring (or entirely different tests).


Yes, because despite several centuries of the autonomy of non-whites not existing, enormous institutional barriers to their access to resources and governance that continue to exist today, and both implicit and explicit separation of their society and culture from that of whites, it's the scoring that's the issue.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:15 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


ugh i just want to travel back in time and punch all the people

I think I can imagine an indie time-traveling vigilante movie coming out of this. Like Timecop, but less "Cop."
posted by filthy light thief at 3:16 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The world has been, and will be forever rigged
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 3:16 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like Timecop, but less "Cop."

Avenging Time Godfather
posted by kagredon at 3:17 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So actually, the problem with this test is less the test itself than the incredibly unfair race-based scoring

The test itself is unfair for the reasons stated above, as well as because illiteracy is not a legitimate reason to disenfranchise someone.

The law was struck down because its enforcement provisions were arbitrary and difficult to justify in 2013.

It looks like zombieflanders addressed this better than I would, but suffice it to say, the majority would have found any provision short of "no state has to abide by section 5" unconstitutional.
posted by dirigibleman at 3:19 PM on June 28, 2013


Sweet Wayback's Baadasssss Song
Doletime
Time Haters

posted by kagredon at 3:28 PM on June 28, 2013


"ugh i just want to travel back in time and punch all the people"

If only I'd thought to post this on howaboutwe.com!
posted by Eideteker at 3:29 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh ... wow:

"In the space below, write the word "noise" backwards and place a dot over what would be its second letter should it have been written forward."

So if you put a dot over the letter "i", you fail?


I'd just like to thank these comments for pointing out all these sorts of things which I otherwise would've missed to some degree.
posted by solarion at 3:38 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Both a. and c. are now correct answers

Also, d. correctly answer a bunch of random questions 99% of voters probably couldn't
posted by Hoopo at 3:41 PM on June 28, 2013


The test itself is unfair for the reasons stated above, as well as because illiteracy is not a legitimate reason to disenfranchise someone.

Well, yeah. This is kind of my point though: there is no acceptable test and the particulars of these do not actually matter. In other words, this whole thread is mostly just dog-whistle graring.
posted by rr at 3:48 PM on June 28, 2013


In other words, this whole thread is mostly just dog-whistle graring.

what
posted by kagredon at 3:54 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is kind of my point though: there is no acceptable test and the particulars of these do not actually matter. In other words, this whole thread is mostly just dog-whistle graring.

If you believe there is no such thing as institutional racism or that yelling THIS IS WHAT IS FUCKED UP ABOUT VOTING RIGHTS counts as subtlety, sure.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:55 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


rr: What value do you think that level of pedantic distinction adds to anyone's understanding of the problem? Accepting your point for the sake of argument still leads to the same conclusion that the tests were designed to provide the illusion of objectivity to a completely subjective process. How is this useful?
posted by adamsc at 3:56 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


The term 'dog-whistle' means--
a. A subtle use of the lingo of a small subgroup of the group you are talking to, to hint to that subgroup that you are biased towards their viewpoint and not actually arguing in good faith.
b. The drink you have after a hangover.
c. When dogs whistle to each other and humans can't hear it, which is okay because dogs can't hold a tune.
posted by fleacircus at 4:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


What value do you think that level of pedantic distinction adds to anyone's understanding of the problem? Accepting your point for the sake of argument still leads to the same conclusion that the tests were designed to provide the illusion of objectivity to a completely subjective process. How is this useful?

? What, we can't discuss why we care about these tests? The issue isn't the content of the tests at all, the issue is that they existed or anything like them could ever exist and why that's politically unacceptable. The last bit is the part that matters: they are not politically unacceptable because the tests or scoring are problematic, they are unacceptable because any testing of any kind will be deemed unacceptable.

Let's plant the goalposts and just be honest about it.
posted by rr at 4:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


God forbid we get a little tetchy about racist scumbags.
posted by kmz at 4:04 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


c. When dogs whistle to each other and humans can't hear it, which is okay because dogs can't hold a tune.

"27. Write out the lyrics to the song Rusty's whistling.

28. And the sheet music.
________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________________"
posted by kagredon at 4:04 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The last bit is the part that matters: they are not politically unacceptable because the tests or scoring are problematic, they are unacceptable because any testing of any kind will be deemed unacceptable.

but yes, you caught us, we think these tests suck eggs. don't tell!
posted by kagredon at 4:09 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The issue isn't the content of the tests at all

The issue is the content. Literacy tests are outrageous. Bogus "literacy" tests that are designed specifically to disenfranchise a race of people is outrage2.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:10 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


rr, what is the test that you would like to have? Because you seem really irritated that people object to the idea of conditioning the exercise of fundamental rights upon what is necessarily an arbitrary, politicized (not partisan: How do you answer the question "What is the test we wish people to pass before having a voice in the political system?" Politics!) construct, so what is it you think we're missing out on?
posted by PMdixon at 4:12 PM on June 28, 2013


On the Louisiana test, I'm having a really hard time differentiating between the unintended grammatical mistakes and intended obfuscation.

No, I'm afraid it's just a big crap sandwich of malevolence and stupidity all in one. I mean, we all know how much Jim Crow Louisiana appreciated fine literature and grammatical precision.
posted by jonp72 at 4:13 PM on June 28, 2013


God forbid we get a little tetchy about racist scumbags.

Didn't you hear? The War of Northern Aggression and the shame it imposed upon a racist culture happened 150 years ago! We can't hold them responsible for any continued racism, because it simply doesn't exist. Black President! New Black Panthers control ACORN's voter fraud!

which is okay because dogs can't hold a tune.

I was going to say "what about Snoop Dogg" but then I remembered that he's Snoop Lion and I got a little sad.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:13 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Crap in a bucket! I'd seen a couple of the questions, but never the sum total of ridiculousness that is the complete test.

...but yes, you caught us, we think these tests suck eggs.

Actually, I think the LA test as written is just fine--Every member of SCOTUS needs to take it and pass 100% within 10 minutes. In a noisy crowded room. After an eight hour manual labor job. There. That werks for me.


Would this be a different society if EVERY registered voter could get an 80 or more on the 1963 Louisiana test posted by theodolite?

jesus
posted by grubi

Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezus
posted by WidgetAlley


It's Jesus. You both fail.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:15 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


BlueHorse: It's Jesus. You both fail.

I'm sorry, "Blue" person, but we're all bright yellow here and the correct answer is "Jebus."
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:19 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, "Blue" person, but we're all bright yellow here and the correct answer is "Jebus."

Reverend Lovejoy?
posted by kagredon at 4:21 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


...the correct answer is "Jebus."

Dang, I knew it was A and not C!

*hangs head
posted by BlueHorse at 4:25 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like Timecop, but less "Cop."

IN A WORLD

WHERE THINGS ARE SUPER FUCKING TERRIBLE

ONE TIME TRAVELING VIGILANTE DOES A THING

TIMEPUNCHER
posted by elizardbits at 5:02 PM on June 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


then I remembered that he's Snoop Lion and I got a little sad.

I just remembered that Nate Dogg is dead and now I'm a little sad.

today is bad day
posted by elizardbits at 5:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


But Ice Cube is still alive and--well you know where I'm going with this already.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:06 PM on June 28, 2013


I hate to be That Guy, but is that insane 1964 Louisiana test the real McCoy? It looks like it was rewritten in Microsoft Word

Color me skeptical as well. I'd like to see more academic sourcing. The other tests are more in line with what I know about these tests.

Google indicates this has been knocking around online for at least 6 or 7 years, but the only books that show partial results from it were published in 2010 or later. That's a red flag for me with bogus quotations and other claims, and personally, this doesn't pass the smell test. The "government 101" questions on the other, more clearly contemporary, examples would have passed court muster, but this one seems to exist in a world where African-Americans in Louisiana never had a single advocate, ally, or avenue to the courts.
posted by dhartung at 5:40 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


dhartung: I get the skepticism, for sure. The reason I'm at least a little sold is that in 1964 it was mandated that all literacy tests be made written instead of oral. The shift from our 1963 example to our 1964 example seems to reflect that, to me.

But it could still be a hoax. I too would like more verification.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:48 PM on June 28, 2013


Eight-hour job? Not likely.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 5:48 PM on June 28, 2013


Apparently the author has been receiving pushback (see comments and twitter), and someone found this typewritten version of the same test [pdf].

That satisfies one part of the authenticity argument -- I don't think that distinctive mimeographed appearance could be easily recreated. It still seems a little questionable, though, because even though it says "State of Louisiana" at the top it really doesn't look like a state-produced document (which would have been typeset), but something local. Without better documentation of the provenance I don't think we have much proof this was really used at any polls, local or otherwise.
posted by dhartung at 5:49 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Everybody should follow the link to the Civil Rights Movement Veterans web site mentioned on the Slate page. The site is a treasure trove of factual, historical information about the civil rights movement with contributions from people who were actually a part of that movement. If that website was the one who posted the literacy tests on the Internet first, I would be very surprised if they were a hoax. They probably have copies of the literacy tests from actual in-the-field civil rights activists from the 1960s who were prepping black people to circumvent those tests.
posted by jonp72 at 5:51 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've done some digging, and found this test (different) on the U of L site, as well as this personal history about the test, from the crmvet site (which I'm guessing is where the Slate writer found the tests. The body of the essay doesn't talk very specifically about questions, which doesn't say much either way.)
posted by kagredon at 5:53 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


(also that I probably would not be able to pass the test linked on the U of L website, and that's as someone who very nearly majored in political science)
posted by kagredon at 5:56 PM on June 28, 2013


even though it says "State of Louisiana" at the top it really doesn't look like a state-produced document (which would have been typeset), but something local.

It may have been a locally produced document, but the locals who administered the literacy tests might have put "the State of Louisiana" on the document to make it look more official or more intimidating to prospective black voters. I remember reading Michael Klarman's From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, where he said that some literacy tests consisted mainly of local officials intimidating prospective black voters while asking unanswerable questions like, "How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?"
posted by jonp72 at 5:56 PM on June 28, 2013


Hoopo : I wish someone had shown me these back then.

The fact that a particular group of people, once upon a time, misused an idea doesn't make that idea unworthy of consideration. We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever. That alone should send the vote straight into the rubbish bin.


notreally : They just assume that since when they were in power and used such blatantly cruel methods to frustrate non whites that a future dark colored U.S. citizenry will do the same thing to them, by then, marginalized whites.

Funny thing about that - We've already seen exactly that proposed, in this very thread even!
posted by pla at 5:57 PM on June 28, 2013


shit, never mind, it's listed as a test from Alabama (though, again, different from the one in the FPP)
posted by kagredon at 5:58 PM on June 28, 2013


My heart is literally racing just reading through those and trying to guess what the questions mean. And I'm just some jerk reading history on the internet. I can't even imagine.

Something just occurred to me, based on how modern day voter intimidation works.

What if part of the reason these tests are so mind-boggling isn't ONLY so that nobody can pass it, but ALSO so as to discourage any non-whites from even showing up at the polls?

I mean, it takes maybe 2-3 black people to show up and get handed this test for word to spread around town that there's no point in even going down to the polling place, because they're going to make you take a test so impossible you cannot even IMAGINE how awful it is. And when you inevitably fail -- because there is no passing this thing, seriously -- you have to walk out of there in shame with all the white folks laughing at you.

I mean, remember the reputation the DMV Learner's Permit test had, when you were 14? Multiply that times a million and add a heaping sack of racism. After a few years they probably only had to keep one or two copies of the damn thing, just in case.
posted by Sara C. at 5:58 PM on June 28, 2013


The fact that a particular group of people, once upon a time, misused an idea doesn't make that idea unworthy of consideration. We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever. That alone should send the vote straight into the rubbish bin.

even if this were true, what is it about drawing 5 intersecting circles a particular way that makes someone qualified to vote?

Funny thing about that - We've already seen exactly that proposed, in this very thread even!

Cite?
posted by kagredon at 5:59 PM on June 28, 2013


The world has been, and will be forever rigged

The purpose of civilization is to make the world, through an iterative process, progressively less rigged.
posted by JHarris at 6:00 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Judging by the test kagredon linked to (which at least doesn't read like a Google employment interview), it would appear that either (a) Voltaire was not a literate person or (b) those bigots either didn't know or didn't care what the word "literacy" means. I'm leaning towards (b).
posted by uosuaq at 6:01 PM on June 28, 2013


The fact that a particular group of people, once upon a time, misused an idea doesn't make that idea unworthy of consideration. We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever. That alone should send the vote straight into the rubbish bin.

Why and how someone votes isn't anyone else's fucking business.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:01 PM on June 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


That someone votes isn't anyone else's fucking business.
posted by uosuaq at 6:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


the problem here was whites were given easier scoring (or entirely different tests).

Also, if you read the Louisiana tests, it says something about "cannot prove that they have passed fifth grade."

All it takes is for someone at the polling place to say, "Oh, yeah, Joe? He was in sixth grade with me, for sure. I'll vouch for him."

The nice thing about segregated schools and all-white officials and discouraging non-white people from taking part in public life in general is that while it was probably easy enough to get out of taking this test as a white person (even if your literacy or educational background was sketchy), a non-white person wouldn't have access to those same basic "Oh, Joe? No, he's good" resources.

So I bet it was vanishingly rare that any white person would ever have been subject to even seeing a literacy test, even if they did have a separate easier test for whites.
posted by Sara C. at 6:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that a particular group of people, once upon a time, misused an idea doesn't make that idea unworthy of consideration. We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever. That alone should send the vote straight into the rubbish bin.

It sounds like you would be happier with a political system that isn't democracy. That's your right, of course, but don't expect many in the thread to agree with you.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:03 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Perhaps an archivist with more experience than I have (I did archivist apprentice work -- pre-sorting -- on materials from the 1940s-80s) could say whether the numbers on the typewritten version of the LA test are the right handwriting style for the 1960s.

Not that I don't believe that the Louisiana authorities were evil and racist. But the authorities are also not often so ingeniously evil (though one wonders about parts of the IRS tax code). The principle of the banality of evil applies. The Mississippi test is evil, but it is also banal. The Louisiana test fails the banality test.
posted by bad grammar at 6:04 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have (white) family members who are dyslexic and so probably count as illiterate by 1960s standards (though they listen to audiobooks), and I will seriously consider punching anyone in the mouth who suggests that this makes them less intelligent, politically aware, or worthwhile as a citizen. Ditto for their non-white dyslexic / disenfranchised brethren back in the racist day.

p.s. did the literacy test makers bother to make Braille versions of their crap tests? somehow I suspect accessibility issues were not high on their list of concerns, even for blind white dudes
posted by nicebookrack at 6:10 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever.

Whut

Seriously, I know polling systems are different in different parts of the US, but I have seen a few different kinds in my day and have never seen anything with a Red Lever and a Blue Lever. Maybe you're using hyperbole, but every time I've voted I've been required to actually read the ballot and carefully indicate which individual candidates I intended to vote for. No matter what the system. I guess you can just go down the Democrat column or the Republican column, but it's usually not that simple.

I also fail to see what people voting along party lines has to do with anything whatsoever. I mean, call me insane but I'd prefer a democratic system where unfortunately some people pick their candidates for knee-jerk reasons along party lines than whatever other system one might propose that required people to prove that they are, like, real true iconoclasts who are totes too cool to just vote for, like, a party, man.

Seriously, I'm about as educated voter as it gets in the US, and I frequently vote along partisan lines and also, when you get down to the little local elections and have to pick four judges or three schoolboard members or whatever, dude, I don't know who the fuck those people are. So, yeah, either it's going to be on party lines, or random choice, or for superficial reasons like thinking they have a cool name or something.
posted by Sara C. at 6:12 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


somehow I suspect accessibility issues were not high on their list of concerns, even for blind white dudes

I suspect that like Sara C. says, it depended on whether or not the blind guy was known and liked (or considered powerful) by the people giving the test. So the guy who was grandpa to a guy you went to school with was fine, the guy who was the blind nephew of the richest man in town was fine, black blind guys were not fine, and the weird white blind guy who no one had ever really talked to was shit out of luck or "collateral damage"
posted by kagredon at 6:13 PM on June 28, 2013


But the authorities are also not often so ingeniously evil

This is not that ingenious.

I see similarly banal "Paris in the the spring" bullshit on facebook at least once a week.
posted by Sara C. at 6:13 PM on June 28, 2013


a future dark colored U.S. citizenry will do the same thing to them, by then, marginalized whites

Ojala.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:15 PM on June 28, 2013


We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever.

The association of red and blue with specific parties is less than 15 years old. What's been the rage in voting these last 15 years? Things without levers.
posted by hoyland at 6:17 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I liked the levers and I am sad that they are gone because now I can no longer imagine my unchosen candidate being dropped into a pit of crocodiles.
posted by elizardbits at 6:25 PM on June 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


But yeah, they were never color-coded, that is a ridiculous and stupid lie.
posted by elizardbits at 6:25 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think pla was being metaphorical.
posted by rifflesby at 6:27 PM on June 28, 2013


Sara C.: "Seriously, I know polling systems are different in different parts of the US, but I have seen a few different kinds in my day and have never seen anything with a Red Lever and a Blue Lever."

It is called a "Master Lever" (whether it is a physical lever, as it was in Cook County (Chicago) when I was a little girl and would accompany my mom to vote, or a "vote for all Republican candidates" touch screen button).

It's no longer legal in Illinois but you can still single motion straight-ticket vote in 15 states. Some of those presumably still have election districts with lever voting machines.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:28 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


jason_steakums : Why and how someone votes isn't anyone else's fucking business.

Sorry, but someone picking a person with the power to make important decisions on my behalf, on the basis of who has the nicer hair definitely does counts as all our business.

We have a representative republic rather than a democracy for a reason. Unfortunately, not even the founding fathers had enough cynicism. They at least expected most people to act in their own base self interest, and completely failed to predict the unholy plague we now know as "marketing".


hoyland : The association of red and blue with specific parties is less than 15 years old. What's been the rage in voting these last 15 years?

<facepalm> Okay, you move the little lever to "Party A", then pull the big black lever. Happy?


kagredon : Cite?

"Actually, I think the LA test as written is just fine--Every member of SCOTUS needs to take it and pass 100% within 10 minutes. In a noisy crowded room. After an eight hour manual labor job. There. That werks for me."
posted by pla at 6:28 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's another link on "master lever" straight ticket voting.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:28 PM on June 28, 2013


I, too, miss the levers. Such a nice heavy feel in the hands, and that substantial KA-CHUNK sound. I really believed I was accomplishing something in there.

OK off to design my own political sound art installation.

KA-CHUNK.
posted by Sara C. at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's true, a joking reference to putting additional vetting onto 9 of the most powerful political figures in the country is definitely the same as proposing that white people be oppressed in a nebulous future. Your skill at reading comprehension has qualified you for a lifetime voting card.
posted by kagredon at 6:33 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Okay, you move the little lever to "Party A", then pull the big black lever. Happy?

No, because that's still a bullshit lie.

The system you're talking about is the system I grew up watching my parents use at the polls (my parents always took me into the voting booth with them, something I highly recommend), and the system I used until maybe the last 5 years of my adult voting life.

The little levers are next to NAMES, not political parties. You can pick and choose whoever you want to vote for, on an individual basis. You're welcome to vote across party lines; it's not hard to do. In fact, as a voter in New York there are often far more than two columns of parties (R/D) and you can often vote for the same candidate on multiple party tickets. So in any given year, my votes are all over the board, just based on who appears on which tickets and which smaller parties I want to throw my support to in a given race.

I don't vote Republican, because I'm a leftist and no Republican candidate is EVER going to sway me. That's got nothing to do with voting machines or my intelligence level.

Gah.
posted by Sara C. at 6:35 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


someone picking a person with the power to make important decisions on my behalf, on the basis of who has the nicer hair definitely does counts as all our business.

If all our elected officials were 22 year old supermodels or Justin Bieber or something, I'd be worried. But it doesn't really seem to be a problem, so who cares? Let people vote for who they want to vote for, for whatever personal reasons. What business is it of yours that Joe Blow voted for Kirsten Gillibrand because he thinks she's a MILF? She's a perfectly good Senator and it's not hurting anyone.

Also, I'll note that the sorts of people who put things like literacy tests in place have modern day counterparts who are PRECISELY the ones likely to vote for a candidate because he seems like a good guy to have a beer with, or because his daddy was mayor and he did a good enough job for 9 terms, or because he's got the right last name, or goes to the right church, or whatever other superficial bullshit.
posted by Sara C. at 6:43 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sara C., I distinctly remember a big "party line" lever on mechanical voting machines (albeit before I was old enough to use one for real). Maybe not the ones used in your state, and you certainly didn't *have* to use them; but they were available. I didn't really like the idea -- if you want to vote straight party line, maybe you should have to go through the work of actually doing so rather than using a "macro" lever. To be fair, though, it would take a lot at this point for me to vote for *any* Republican candidate for *anything*, so I'd probably use that big D lever if it were available.
posted by uosuaq at 6:46 PM on June 28, 2013


Literacy tests have never been seriously used for the primary purpose of restricting voting rights to the literate, and given the rise of TV news and the decline of print there doesn't seem to be much use in equating actual literacy with political literacy today. So I'm not sure what the point of this discussion is.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:50 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but someone picking a person with the power to make important decisions on my behalf, on the basis of who has the nicer hair definitely does counts as all our business.

We have a representative republic rather than a democracy for a reason. Unfortunately, not even the founding fathers had enough cynicism. They at least expected most people to act in their own base self interest, and completely failed to predict the unholy plague we now know as "marketing".


Someone could specifically vote for candidates and measures that are the exact opposite of what I want with the only intention being to nullify my vote in particular and it is none of my business. Not even a little.

You want a more educated voter? Do the hard work and fight for better education for everyone. Trying to implement a filter to only let "educated" people vote is one of the laziest, least thought-out propositions one can put forward.

Who writes the tests? Who scores them? Who decides what metrics we're testing in the first place? How do you prevent gaming of the tests by anyone with an interest in the outcome of an election? Do people with learning or other intellectual disabilities just have no voice anymore? What about people who were failed by the educational system? What about people who had to prioritize supporting their family over their education? Fuck 'em? What about the day it turns on you?
posted by jason_steakums at 6:53 PM on June 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Perhaps an archivist with more experience than I have (I did archivist apprentice work -- pre-sorting -- on materials from the 1940s-80s) could say whether the numbers on the typewritten version of the LA test are the right handwriting style for the 1960s.

Not that I don't believe that the Louisiana authorities were evil and racist. But the authorities are also not often so ingeniously evil (though one wonders about parts of the IRS tax code). The principle of the banality of evil applies. The Mississippi test is evil, but it is also banal. The Louisiana test fails the banality test.


Um, this is awkward, but now that you say that, it kind of doesn't look like a 1960s document. There's no question Louisiana had a literacy test, but the Supreme Court case finding it unconstitutional is clearly not describing this test.

Louisiana, in 1921, substituted a new "interpretation test," which required an applicant to interpret a section of the State or Federal Constitution to the satisfaction of the registrar.

Now it does go on to describe a second part, without giving any clear idea what was involved:

At least 21 parishes in the mid-1950's began applying the interpretation test, to which was added in 1960 a comprehension requirement, applicable to all persons, which the State Registration Board ordered rigidly enforced.

But I'm not seeing the test above linked anyplace that feels like a really solid source, and that makes me worry that we're in Snopes territory here.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:55 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


The ability to read written English is orthogonal to the ability to think critically and make informed choices.

Unfortunately, not even the founding fathers had enough cynicism.

So, it's not enough to disenfranchise everyone but white, landowning, Christian males, you want to disenfranchise everyone who doesn't vote for who you want for the reasons you approve.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:00 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Apparently lots of people have noticed the font problem, and the SlateVault Twitter has RTed this PDF of a version that looks more period appropriate. I'm still a little concerned that there isn't better sourcing, though.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:05 PM on June 28, 2013


dirigibleman : So, it's not enough to disenfranchise everyone but white, landowning, Christian males, you want to disenfranchise everyone who doesn't vote for who you want for the reasons you approve.

Really? Really? You understood my post that little?

I don't care who you vote for, or how you vote on Question 17, or whether you hate the USSC this year more for Shelby or for Hollingsworth.

I care that you vote because you understand the issues involved enough to actually have an opinion of your own. You might fairly ask why I care, since at least for the past 20 years, Tweedle Dee (blue eyes) has nicely balanced out Tweedle Dum (brown eyes). Well, put bluntly, I care because the noise outweighs the signal at this point.

Democracy doesn't work when people vote because they "should". It works when they vote because they care enough to vote.
posted by pla at 7:43 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


SlateVault Twitter has RTed this PDF of a version that looks more period appropriate. I'm still a little concerned that there isn't better sourcing, though.

Notice there's no typo in the last question in this one. Seems roughly drawn for an official state document (circles are drawn free-hand, squares are very uneven). But some of the period details are there: indenting in the second paragraph, double-space after the period.
posted by dontjumplarry at 7:52 PM on June 28, 2013


As a non-white, I would have been required to take these tests. As a fairly well educated person, I would think that I would stand at least a whisper of a chance of passing. But since so many of the questions are designed to have no correct answers except for the ones I didn't give, I would go home, discouraged. I wouldn't return the next year better educated in an effort to pass, I would recognize it for yet another rigged game to keep minorities from voting. And on a another level, to keep minorities from ever thinking they were able achieve the same level of education as a white. And that, to be quite frank, makes me fucking angry angry angry and places me squarely in the "go back in time to do some face-punching" camp. So much grar.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 7:59 PM on June 28, 2013


The first reference I can find on the web to the test is this 2005 post on the Electric Audio forums, which links to the PDF on "rethinkingschools.org". The URL contains the path "archive/17_02". There's an article in issue 17(2) from 2002 by one of the editors called "Bringing the Civil Rights Movement into the Classroom", which is paywalled, but it was reprinted in this 2009 book (published by the editors of "Rethinking Schools"), where it says simply:
I also had students take the 10-minute Louisiana Literacy Test, used to prevent African Americans from voting. I write on the chalkboard, "Write backwards, forwards" and "Print the word vote upside down, but in the correct order." Students always respond with dismay, asking, "Why?" I explained that these are the types of questions African Americans were asked on literacy tests as they attempted to vote. By actually taking the test, the students were able to see how hard the state of Louisiana worked to stop the black community from voting.
Unfortunately one page is missing from the Google Books preview.

There are several other computer-typeset versions of the test on various K-12 teachers' sites.
posted by junco at 8:03 PM on June 28, 2013


We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever.

[morbo] PARTISANSHIP DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY! [/morbo]

Partisanship, and especially strong and consistent partisanship, is actually associated with higher levels of political knowledge, higher levels of political interest, higher probability of turnout, higher education, and pretty much any other measure of civic virtue you can think of.

I can't recall offhand whether that works specifically for party-line voting, am too lazy to install R on this machine right this minute, and don't have a Stata license handy. But given the powerful correlations between other measures of partisanship and measures of civic virtue, I would be very surprised if it weren't.

I know it's easy to think of partisans as being blind knuckleheads and that independents are smarter than that, but as measures of general tendency the reverse is true. Strong partisans tend to be the people who understand politics and care about it enough to have picked a side, while the few pure independents out there tend to be the sorts of people who end up being undecided in late October.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:06 PM on June 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Really? Really? You understood my post that little?

I understood you perfectly. It's the typical right-wing response to people not voting the way you want: Take away their right to vote. You even went with the right-wing authoritarian "republic not democracy" canard.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:15 PM on June 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


Apparently the author has been receiving pushback (see comments and twitter), and someone found this typewritten version of the same test [pdf].

I'm 97% sure that's was also computer-printed, but was then photocopied through many generations. It looks like a multigenerational copy of whatever the standard fixed-width font (Courier) was on LaserJets in the 1990s.

IBM typewriters had a similar Courier font, but I still think you'd see a little bit more organic variation than is seen in that version.
posted by afiler at 8:28 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I could see this being something a teacher created to drive home the point about voter literacy testing, and then copies circulated over time and the origin was distorted.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:31 PM on June 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


jason_steakums, that explanation makes the most sense to me.
posted by afiler at 8:36 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


rifflesby: "Amazing. I'm saving this for the next time I run a game of Paranoia."

So, citizen, you are telling me Friend Computer's supplied 00Z4455690/9 literacy tests are inadequate for use with Alpha City citizens? I highly recommend you immediately place yourself in the Woeful Surrender Position so you can be transported safely to Teela-O-MLY's Superfuntime Apologarium, Reeducation Camp, and Chock-O-Salt Log Manufacturing Tour.

We would be very sad if you were unable to attend such an event undamaged. And you do not want to make us sad.

We would also be sad if we had to waste a laser barrel shooting you. See previous sentence.
posted by Samizdata at 8:43 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Elementary Penguin: "25. (Paraphrased)

Write down the following:

Paris
in the
the spring.


that is my favorite(?)
"

Dear God, I got so much use out of that in my life, especially when I taught computer courses at a business college. It's a lovely way to remind people of our ability to filter nonsensical information which the computer markedly doe NOT have.
posted by Samizdata at 8:45 PM on June 28, 2013


The corpse in the library: "That gave my ADHD-addled brain an instant headache and made me frustrated and angry, and I'm just doing it for fun while sitting in my dining room."

Look, you're dead. I am not mortalist, but you aren't going to get to vote, no matter what test you take.

Just, erm, chill out.
posted by Samizdata at 8:52 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]




Look, you're dead. I am not mortalist, but you aren't going to get to vote, no matter what test you take.

Don't be so sure.
posted by kagredon at 8:59 PM on June 28, 2013


kagredon: " Look, you're dead. I am not mortalist, but you aren't going to get to vote, no matter what test you take.

Don't be so sure.
"

Okay then, maybe I AM mortalist.
posted by Samizdata at 9:19 PM on June 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


But there was always a part of me that was kind of like -- well, if we _can_ give everyone at least an "I am literate" eduation (and literacy rates in the US, even amongst underserved communities are in the high 90s nowadays), what would be the harm of making sure that they are, in fact, at least possessed with the intelligence to read the ballot in todays day and age?

The stupidest human being I know has a doctorate in a hard science. They're so stupid that every time I have to interact with them I am almost certain they must be perpetually massively stoned and/or drunk because surely no one can be that stupid sober. How on earth they managed to graduate is also a mystery to me - I truly believe that their parents either gave a massive donation to the school or they paid someone to take all the classes for them for the duration of the degree program.

I wouldn't trust them to successfully heat up a Hot Pocket unaided without burning down the house and yet no literacy test in the world would prevent them from voting if it were simply a literacy test.

In opposition to that thought, any of these tests show (even apart from the crazy 'draw a tesseract in the correct dimensions' style test) being able to read isn't any guarantee that one would be able to pass a literacy test.

I would have failed that Louisiana test like a boss - I still don't understand the gotcha in that Paris in the springtime question, unless it's simply that you have to write the words in the order they appear in the triangle rather than in the order that would make logical sense of them.
posted by winna at 10:31 PM on June 28, 2013


I still don't understand the gotcha in that Paris in the springtime question

The word "the" repeats again on the next line, it's one of those classic perception tricks.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:40 PM on June 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


We seriously have people who cast their vote by pulling the big red or blue lever.

Actually, the real stupidity is believing that it matters, in a country with what, eighty, a hundred million voters not to mention a two party system, to carefully scrutinise your vote to make sure you vote the candidate you like the most, when even if your preferred candidate gets into office, they'll quickly turn out to be much more like the previous guy than you wanted them to be anyway.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:26 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really? Really? You understood my post that little?

I don't care who you vote for, or how you vote on Question 17, or whether you hate the USSC this year more for Shelby or for Hollingsworth.

I care that you vote because you understand the issues involved enough to actually have an opinion of your own. You might fairly ask why I care, since at least for the past 20 years, Tweedle Dee (blue eyes) has nicely balanced out Tweedle Dum (brown eyes). Well, put bluntly, I care because the noise outweighs the signal at this point.

Democracy doesn't work when people vote because they "should". It works when they vote because they care enough to vote.


So, in this theoretical ideal "republic" of yours, who writes and administers the test? How are they graded? Gimme some sample questions.
posted by kmz at 4:55 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


pla: "Democracy doesn't work when people vote because they "should"."
See also: Australia.
posted by brokkr at 9:01 AM on June 29, 2013


kmz : So, in this theoretical ideal "republic" of yours, who writes and administers the test? How are they graded? Gimme some sample questions.

I see a really basic civics and current political events test as a good option (I agree that "literacy" has nothing to do with voting, and we have over a 99% literacy rate anyway in the US, so testing that would just waste everyone's time). And while I don't personally specialize in test design, I learned enough of it in my several Research Design courses to know that you can make fair, unambiguous questions.

Even something as simple as a few multiple choice questions like "Who is John Boehner", with all the incorrect options as blatantly untrue, no ambiguity involved (so nothing like "A) Speaker of the House; B) A tobacco-industry shill; C) A nice young man with great hair"... More like "A) Speaker of the US House of Representatives; B) Chair of the Federal Reserve Board; C) Executive Producer of 'Dancing With The Stars'").

As for administering it, we already have plenty of (private) infrastructure in place to handle that in a fair and objective manner. I imagine something similar to the test portion of getting a drivers' license - You head on down to Sylvan or ETS or Prometric, take the test, then take your proof-of-passing with you when you register to vote. I'd also suggest requiring a renewal every 10 years or so (passionate 20-somethings all too often decay into soulless middle-agers). And if you fail, you get to try again every six months (with at least three chances to pass before turning 18).

And before someone comments about a "poll tax", I would prefer to see this done as a (nonrefundable) tax credit. It would also end the debate on voter ID, because those testing centers require ID but already deal regularly with people who don't have licenses. Your "I passed" card effectively becomes your voter ID card, and no one has to pay a single cent to get it.


MartinWisse : Actually, the real stupidity is believing that it matters, in a country with what, eighty, a hundred million voters

As I mentioned, the noise swamps the signal at this point. With a hundred million voters, just a random half-a-percent fluctuation completely swamps any "real" difference among independent voters. Every time you hear someone bemoan that they "need" to vote for Obama instead of Stein just to block Romney, you see an example of exactly the problem to which I refer.

even if your preferred candidate gets into office, they'll quickly turn out to be much more like the previous guy than you wanted them to be anyway.

While I completely agree, I consider that precisely what we want to eliminate. We need people voting who understand that they do have more than two choices, and that the Blessed Two should count as the absolute last resort. Or perhaps some people really will still vote for Obama, because they've tracked his history as an IL senator and consider him the bee's knees - Hey, cool. Just have a reason.
posted by pla at 9:07 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even something as simple as a few multiple choice questions like "Who is John Boehner", with all the incorrect options as blatantly untrue, no ambiguity involved

Wait, so what's the point of this test exactly? Earlier it seemed you wanted to filter out people you deemed too stupid to vote, but now all false answers are 'blatantly untrue', making it seemingly nothing but a literacy test, which you claim it isn't.

Never mind that it will diminish the voting ability of the poor, doubly so if you outsource testing to those private testing centers. (Ever been to one? They're not exactly numerous. There was exactly one place I could take the GRE that I could get to and that was while living in a major urban area.)
posted by hoyland at 9:19 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I could see this being something a teacher created to drive home the point about voter literacy testing, and then copies circulated over time and the origin was distorted.

This makes a lot of sense to me. Thirty questions over three pages seems like overkill, where five questions on a single page would be sufficient to achieve the purpose of disenfranchisement.
posted by ogooglebar at 9:24 AM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Regarding the origin of the test, someone asked Rebecca Onion, the Slate author, if it might be a hoax. Her response: "Hi! I don't think so, as I have testimony from the activist who uploaded it and remembers using it in 1964. But I'm working on finding an authentic copy."
posted by cjelli at 10:38 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doesn't matter if it's authentic or not now. The folks who don't want to accept the realities of racism in America for what they are will just claim it's a hoax/conspiracy anyway, probably spawning dozens of "The Truth about Jim Crow" conspiracy blogs to give comfort to the racists that they really aren't that bad and have just been misportrayed and misunderstood. Because to accept it would be to accept the good old days weren't really so great and that we actually do have good reasons to feel ashamed about our racist history and present-day racism. See, shame is what makes certain kinds of people angriest and most defensive. Instead of learning from feelings of shame, some people double-down on denial and anger.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 AM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doesn't matter if it's authentic or not now.

Yes it does.
posted by Mapes at 11:23 AM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think the question over whether it's authentic is really interesting. First, because it raises questions about some of the memory-gathering work trying to capture reflections on Jim Crow era life as the people who were there get older.

And second, because it's hard to say antecedently whether this kind of brainteaser-type test could plausibly have been administered (as opposed to the more clearly politics-related or Latin ones that are attested above). I could believe this was a real test. But I can also completely believe the "a teacher made it up as a classroom exercise and it has been circulated without the proper backstory" theory -- makes sense because I think of these kinds of brainteasers as a stock in trade of school exercises, and it would be a good way of driving home the historical point to younger students. And people believe it's real because the poll tests were really unreasonable and this fits with that understanding.

It's a weird Schroedinger's poll test situation - the real history includes people being so crazy and unreasonable that our assessment of behavioral plausibility is just thrown for a loop; who knows, there is nothing so crazy that we can't believe they might have done that. This goes back to why the memory-gathering work is both very important and very difficult (since independent plausibility assessment of the testimony of people who lived it runs into the same problem with descriptions of some of the insane things that happened - anything seems possible).
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:26 AM on June 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


hoyland : Earlier it seemed you wanted to filter out people you deemed too stupid to vote, but now all false answers are 'blatantly untrue', making it seemingly nothing but a literacy test, which you claim it isn't.

"Blatantly untrue" can still require you to actually recognize the name "John Boehner" and know more-or-less why he holds a significant role in our current government. As opposed to "hey, I think they made fun of that guy on Fox Sports, it must be the DWtS answer!". And all those words you put in my mouth, you may want to use them to make a point yourself rather than just mocking me.


Never mind that it will diminish the voting ability of the poor, doubly so if you outsource testing to those private testing centers.

Seriously? I live in the middle of nowhere, and have three within an hour's drive. But okay, I'll play along - We'll include a tax credit for a goddamned bus ticket. That do it for ya? Or should we pay for a tutor as well?


saulgoodman : Doesn't matter if it's authentic or not now.

Hey, wouldjalookatthis! I just found this Kenyan birth certificate proving the "birthers" right, sitting on top of my printer of all places. What does its authenticity really matter?

posted by pla at 1:40 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Every human being should be able to vote for whatever reason and person they desire. Otherwise democracy is sham. But then, in your secret heart, isn't that the point? Conservatives have always believed in some fashion that the country would be better of without all these damn decisions resting the hands of the people.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:50 PM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you think there should be tests of any kind to determine voting eligibility I hope the ghost of Leo Strauss farts in your bedroom every night while you sleep forever.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:53 PM on June 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


And all those words you put in my mouth, you may want to use them to make a point yourself rather than just mocking me.

What words did I put in your mouth? Possibly that you thought some people were too stupid to vote. But I'm not sure how to better describe the grounds on which you wish to ban people from voting.

It takes some nerve to come into a thread about racist voter suppression using literacy tests and proclaim that, no, eligibility tests for voting are a swell idea.

Seriously? I live in the middle of nowhere, and have three within an hour's drive. But okay, I'll play along - We'll include a tax credit for a goddamned bus ticket. That do it for ya? Or should we pay for a tutor as well?

Just checked. There are now two places I could have taken the GRE. Where I am now? Only out in the suburbs. It's somewhere between 50 minutes and 1 hour 10 minutes each way on the bus, depending on when you go, to the closest one. Maybe this comes as a surprise to you, but that's a lot of travel time, particularly after work, if the place is even open after work. What are people supposed to do with their kids? Got to take them along, I guess, if the testing center even lets you in with kids in tow. I suppose you'll tell me that if they cared enough about voting, they'd find a way. Except voting is a right. And that would be my point. You don't get to decide who is worthy of rights, you have to suck it up and deal with people you don't like having rights.
posted by hoyland at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


hoyland It takes some nerve to come into a thread about racist voter suppression using literacy tests and proclaim that, no, eligibility tests for voting are a swell idea.

Well... Yes, it does, actually. When everyone else can't get out of their own way fast enough to jump on the bandwagon, pointing out that the band kinda sucks does take some nerve.

In this case, we have an FP link to a web page claiming to contain an atrociously written (even if intended to have ambiguous answers) "test" for eligibility to vote. And we have no shortage of thread participants thrilled to give their daily rant against racism, and various other "isms" for good measure, in response.

And yet - That link? Even if 100% legitimate, the test has nothing racist about it. The administration thereof may have, but not a single question presented at that link would have the least bias toward or against any particular race. You could just as accurately claim Louisiana used exactly the same test to prevent the Amish from voting, or the poor, or women, or people named "Fred".

Yes, I get that the ambiguity means the administrant of the test gets to impose his own biases on who passes. And historically, In 1960s Louisiana, that meant black people didn't pass. That has nothing at all to do with the test itself, or with the general merits of making sure voters have at least a passing familiarity with the subject of the vote.

So yes, it takes some nerve to come in here and say "uh, guys? Think about what you really mean before throwing the baby out with the bathwater". It sure as hell won't make me popular.
posted by pla at 4:17 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


disenfranchisement was the express purpose of these tests, and nothing about the tests you describe give anything other than disenfranchisement as the purpose. calling it "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" and painting yourself as some courageous truth-teller (the only one whose willing to say he's for disenfranchisement! what a hero) is deluded ahistorical idiocy
posted by kagredon at 4:22 PM on June 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


or, put another way, people are not telling you your idea is stupid and undemocratic because of political correctness gone mad. They are telling you that because your idea is stupid and undemocratic.
posted by kagredon at 4:26 PM on June 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


I get that the ambiguity means the administrant of the test gets to impose his own biases on who passes. And historically, In 1960s Louisiana, that meant black people didn't pass. That has nothing at all to do with the test itself

This is a pretty fine hair you are splitting, and to no visible purpose.
posted by fleacircus at 5:07 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seriously, I know polling systems are different in different parts of the US, but I have seen a few different kinds in my day and have never seen anything with a Red Lever and a Blue Lever. Maybe you're using hyperbole, but every time I've voted I've been required to actually read the ballot and carefully indicate which individual candidates I intended to vote for. No matter what the system. I guess you can just go down the Democrat column or the Republican column, but it's usually not that simple.

When I was much younger, in New York City, you had an option to hit "Democrat" or "Republican" and pull the lever, and it would punch for every single democrat or republican on the ballot. However, the last time I went to vote in New York City, this option was no longer available. I don't know what that says about it as a method today - possibly in more rural areas? But it certainly did exist. Though no separate lever nonsense.
posted by corb at 5:50 PM on June 29, 2013


Partisanship, and especially strong and consistent partisanship, is actually associated with higher levels of political knowledge, higher levels of political interest, higher probability of turnout, higher education, and pretty much any other measure of civic virtue you can think of.

I would bet that that is in fact incorrect. In fact, didn't we have an FPP about exactly this, that showed that partisanship made people more likely to cite incorrect facts that didn't really happen?

Look, people vote for parties for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they vote for parties because that party ushered in their favorite piece of legislation 50 years ago. Sometimes they vote for them because that party used to give free donuts with the coffee they gave out, while the other party only gave out coffee. Sometimes they vote for them because a guy from that party gave a family member a job umpteen years ago. (I kid you not, I've heard all of these in real life.)

That is one reason why parties suck.

I'd love a blind voting system, where people weren't actually allowed to list "Republican" or "Democrat" on the ticket. If you are educated enough about the candidates to know who you're voting for, mazel tov, cast your vote correctly. If not, at least you don't get to vote for someone purely on the basis of what color tie they're wearing.
posted by corb at 5:59 PM on June 29, 2013


There's a party line button on the voting machines here in Texas - not just Red or Blue IIRC but a Green Party straight ticket and a Libertarian one, too (although this may be a recent change).

Of course there are some races where a party does not run a candidate, and lots of non-party races as well. I usually choose the green party option, which leaves a lot of open elections to fill in. Political parties serve a function, and that 99 times out of 100 I'm going to pick the green or dem candidate over the republican or libertarian one, because someone most aligned with my values is likely going to be in those parties. TL;DR just because I vote a party ticket doesn't mean I haven't done my research - it could also mean that I have done the research and surprise surprise, I agree with all the Green or Dem candidates!

If parties weren't printed on ballots, there would be party operatives standing outside the polling locations with voting guides, just as activist organizations do (although now they're usually online). Political parties are an organic, self-perpetuating result of the political system we instituted.
posted by muddgirl at 6:07 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would bet that that is in fact incorrect. In fact, didn't we have an FPP about exactly this, that showed that partisanship made people more likely to cite incorrect facts that didn't really happen?

It's not partisanship, it's parties. Sabato talks about it a bit here, but the gist of it is that back when parties were stronger on a state/local level, those local branches of the Democratic or Republican party were the ones who were out registering people, making sure they went to the polls, raising awareness about their pet issues, etc. All with the goal that it would make people vote their way, of course, but the net result was a more active and aware electorate.
posted by kagredon at 6:53 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Given the level of mistrust many people on all sides of the political spectrum have of government processes and sometimes the proven or highly suspect cases of outright Election fraud, or just downright jerry-rigging the process to minimize turnout of a targeted demographic, added to the fact that each individual state pretty much dictates how an election is run with only some broad parameters, I find it downright amazing anyone would suggest any kind of test as a bar to casting a ballot. What a fucking stupid idea. Lets drive down the participation rate of the most fundamental part of a democracy. Goddamn, talk about elitist paranoia. I understand the desire not to want someone else casting a vote that may affect me and those that I care about. I hate that people vote for politicians who wish to eliminate certain rights or who are homophobic, or who vote based on their restrictive reading of whatever religious text. I hate that. But the solution is not disenfranchising those voters, that is fucking totalitarianism, more so than any push to restrict gun ownership. If you don't like illiterate people voting, GO OUT AND FIGHT TO END ILLITERACY!
It is not brave or noble or cleaver or anything but downright small, mean and selfish and dictatorial to advocate for such restrictions.
damn
posted by edgeways at 6:54 PM on June 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ah, I knew I'd read something that had a whole chapter on it. I was thinking of this (which I think I read at the same time as the Sabato book, thus the confusion.)
posted by kagredon at 7:11 PM on June 29, 2013


And abuses would inevitably creep in, regardless of the intentions of the advocates (which are inherently dubious already). There's a strong temptation to imagine that if someone doesn't see things your way politically, it must be due to stupidity or ignorance; once you've written off those who don't agree with you as fools, it's awfully easy to feel justified in cheating them out of their rightful say in decision-making. That doesn't make it any less their rightful say to anyone with more than the most superficial commitment to democratic ideals.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:13 PM on June 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


If parties weren't printed on ballots, there would be party operatives standing outside the polling locations with voting guides, just as activist organizations do (although now they're usually online).

When I lived in California, we got a lot of Republican campaign mailings, for whatever reason. The guy who lived in my dorm room the year before me was obviously a Republican, because when I lived in the dorm it was all addressed to him. But we got a few at an apartment I lived in later, too.* One of these actually was a postcard-sized voting guide, telling you how 'Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger' wanted you to vote on the propositions, which had to be getting close to the line. You are allowed to take notes to vote in California (and maybe most places?), as there's no other way to reasonably vote on propositions (if one can ever be said to reasonably vote on propositions).

*I'm not sure why. Though the Republican Party was convinced my not Hispanic roommate's family were Hispanic (based on their surname) and consequently kept trying to woo them with Spanish-language materials. Maybe they thought their efforts had succeeded (and that she'd suddenly developed a preference for English-language mailings).
posted by hoyland at 7:16 PM on June 29, 2013


Washington state will do things like list "Prefers Republican" or "Prefers Democrats" next to candidate's names for non-partisan positions, which, what is the point of a non-partisan election then? Apart from you can have multiple people who identify as one in the same election.

I forgive them though, because 100% vote-by-mail is rad as hell. Get the ballot in the mail about two weeks before election day, set aside a night to go through it with Google and a glass of wine, drop it in the mail the next morning and you're done. No looking up where the elementary school is, no trying to wedge it in with all of your other errands, no getting to the polling place and realizing that you had no idea that there were judges on the ballot this year and you forgot to look them up.
posted by kagredon at 7:24 PM on June 29, 2013


I'd love a blind voting system, where people weren't actually allowed to list "Republican" or "Democrat" on the ticket. If you are educated enough about the candidates to know who you're voting for, mazel tov, cast your vote correctly. If not, at least you don't get to vote for someone purely on the basis of what color tie they're wearing.

But knowing what party someone is in is becoming educated about the candidates. The parties actually stand for things and have specific platforms which can communicate useful information about the way any given politician will behave once elected.

Obviously, for huge races like president, senate, congress, governor, mayor, etc. it's easy to get an understanding of each individual candidate and where they specifically stand on the issues. There'll be public debates, information in the press, etc. and it's not too much to expect a person to know the difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

But without the party information at the polls, what am I supposed to do for, say, judges? Or aldermen? Or city council? Or schoolboard? I don't know all these people. I couldn't possibly keep them all straight. It's unlikely that there will be extensive press coverage of these races with space given to candidate's specific political beliefs on a variety of issues.

Isn't it a lot easier to just put what party the person is in right there next to their name at the polls, so I don't have hours of homework to do on each candidate in every obscure local race, and then expect me to memorize a litany of who's who?

Seriously, there is nothing wrong with political parties. They exist for a reason. The only reason I can come up with to obscure what party candidates belong to as a matter of course is to discourage voting.
posted by Sara C. at 7:34 PM on June 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would bet that that is in fact incorrect.

You would lose that bet. If you want to educate yourself on this, the simplest place to start is probably still The Myth of the Independent Voter by Keith and others.

I'd love a blind voting system, where people weren't actually allowed to list "Republican" or "Democrat" on the ticket.

That's the Nebraska legislature, and it works... poorly. The key piece here is Wright and Schaffner in the 2002 APSR. It turns out that in nonpartisan Nebraska, democracy is so fundamentally broken that even if you have extensive information about legislators' policy positions on a wide range of issues, that has no predictive power about how they're going to vote.

More broadly, what you're asking for is old-timey southern governments, where the fact that ~everyone was a Democrat meant that there were effectively no parties, just eternally shifting coalitions based on almost anything except policy. Wright and Schaffner mention this, I think, and it's related to Jeff Jenkins' recentish work on the Confederate Congress, but this goes all the way back to VO Key's work in the 40s thru 60s.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:07 PM on June 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


The problem is, in some states, there's a long history of pols switching sides and exploiting low-information voters tendency to vote by party ticket. Whenever the political winds shift, some pols who might really hold positions more closely aligned with the currently unpopular party just run under the currently ascendant party's ticket. Either way, nominal party affiliation sometimes really isn't a very accurate predictor of how a candidate will behave once elected. What might be helpful is if there were at least some legal mechanisms to hold candidates accountable for deliberately breaking specific campaign promises--some kind of criminal penalty for political fraud. If the law were designed well enough to guard against political machinations and included real, meaningful criminal penalties, it might be easier for people to know exactly what they're voting for and pols might be less inlined to pull the old switcheroo once in office.

Sara C: George Washington was deeply opposed to political parties as he believed they promoted fractiousness and were too divisive. He believed they would also make it easier for outside interests to capture our political process. I don't think he meant this to disenfranchise voters as, for our first 75 years or so, we effectively didn't have parties.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:39 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


What might be helpful is if there were at least some legal mechanisms to hold candidates accountable for deliberately breaking specific campaign promises

This is an attractive idea, but the immediate result would be fewer specific campaign promises. You'd end up knowing even less about what a candidate stood for. Worse, Congress would be even more gridlocked, because everyone would be too scared to budge an inch to pass any effective compromises.
posted by ogooglebar at 7:18 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


George Washington has been dead for 200 years. I mean, thanks for making us not British and stuff, but honestly his opinion about the ideal way to run a democratic republic of 300 million citizens stretching over almost an entire continent is irrelevant.

Political parties exist. While they have their downsides, they also have the benefit of being an immediate shorthand for how a given politician will behave while in office. To pretend that they don't exist and refuse to inform voters of party information as a matter of principle is bad for democracy.
posted by Sara C. at 7:21 AM on June 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


The problem is, in some states, there's a long history of pols switching sides and exploiting low-information voters tendency to vote by party ticket.

Where and when are you thinking of? California under cross-filing?

Either way, nominal party affiliation sometimes really isn't a very accurate predictor of how a candidate will behave once elected.

Sure, but almost anything is true of human behavior sometimes. Most of the time, it's the single most accurate predictor you can get.

George Washington was deeply opposed to political parties as he believed they promoted fractiousness and were too divisive. He believed they would also make it easier for outside interests to capture our political process.

George Washington was wrong, and I cannot seriously believe that you truly believe he is a model for right political action or belief. Instead, I believe you're using him as an emotional cudgel to make SaraC feel unpatriotic.

I don't think he meant this to disenfranchise voters

Of course he did. The system under which he became President was not one we would recognize as democratic, and I'm unable to locate any speech or letter in which he advocates for the extension of the franchise.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:44 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, despite Washington's well-noted distaste for political parties, they sprang up pretty much right away. His second term was plagued with them, and they were well-established by 1796, when Adams ran on a Federalist Party ticket and Jefferson was the front-runner on a Democratic-Republican Party ticket (I would not look to the years of the Articles of Confederation, as that political system was very different from the one instituted by the Constitution). The notion that parties did not exist until sometime in the 1840s is a strange one.
posted by muddgirl at 8:20 AM on June 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


The parties that existed in 1796 or the very early 1800s were different beasts -- largely associations of elites or officeholders. The thing that grew up in the 1820s-1830s was the mass political party that linked officeholders across multiple offices and levels of government, truly mass-level voters, and caretakers for the party as its own independent entity.

Basically, what we think of as a party, doing all the things that we think of parties as doing? That dates from the 1820s-1830s.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:43 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Basically, what we think of as a party, doing all the things that we think of parties as doing? That dates from the 1820s-1830s.
In the United States, the rise of Jacksonian democracy in the 1820s led to a close approximation of universal manhood suffrage among whites being adopted in most states
I think you said it implicitly, but to be clear, during that 20-30 year period when parties didn't exist like they do now, drastically fewer people had the vote.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:17 AM on June 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


It happens in Florida at the state level often enough. The bigger issue is with candidates who are just beginning their careers and who don't have much name recognition. I'm on a stupid tablet right now, so as much as I'd like to elaborate, it's too annoying to type a more complete response. I think a covenant of some kind between voters and their elected officials could be a powerful thing if designed well and given force of law like any other contract, but I think that's an untested idea and would certainly have kinks to work out. Voters could never claim they didn't know exactly what they were voting for with such a mechanism, if it required a sufficiently detailed accounting of a candidate's legislative priorities and specific proposals.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:05 PM on June 30, 2013


The bigger issue is with candidates who are just beginning their careers and who don't have much name recognition.

How would you propose that these candidates distinguish themselves, if they're not even allowed to say what party they belong to?

Imagine your typical local race for school board. You're in the voting booth, and you see a list of candidates, none of whose names you know. There's no party affiliation mentioned.

What do you do?

I mean, even on a simple issue like education, the two major parties are VASTLY different. When I see (R) next to a candidate's name, I assume there's a chance that they favor abstinence-only education, voucher programs, and textbooks that suggest that the US was founded on Christian principles. I don't like that stuff, so I vote for Democrats, Greens, and other left-leaning parties. If I don't know which party the candidates belong to, I have no way of knowing who's going to surprise me by enacting these kinds of policies.

While it's possible that the person running as a Democrat doesn't agree with me on educational issues, and I guess it's possible that the Republican is being unfairly tarred with an ultra-conservative brush, I'd rather take a chance and try to make an informed decision than just decide based on a coin flip.
posted by Sara C. at 5:27 PM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


No what I mean is those candidates tend to choose their party affiliation based not on their own political views but based on which party they think is trending up politically--the priority is only on getting elected because there are no consequences for how they behave once they get in office.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:11 PM on June 30, 2013


I'm fairly confident this happens at the level of state legislatures anyway, where many candidates are basically making their electoral bids with the backing of particular coalitions of business interests who have certain specific legislative results in mind from the get go.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:23 PM on June 30, 2013


those candidates tend to choose their party affiliation based not on their own political views but based on which party they think is trending up politically

So?

Again, in that case, they are going to have to caucus with the party that brung 'em, which means that, yeah, knowing what party they are currently with is still helpful even if it's not a peek deep into their innermost soul.

Nobody assumes that a letter next to a name in the voting booth is the ultimate predictor of EXACTLY how a politician will vote and what positions they will take and whether they will succeed at fulfilling campaign promises. But it's still useful information.

Taking the party off the ballot does nothing to prevent politicians acting like wild cards if that's what they want to do. Taking parties off the ballot doesn't force parties to stop existing, and I'd rather at least know what smoke-filled room my local reps are going to be in.
posted by Sara C. at 7:18 PM on June 30, 2013


So--often they don't actually believe what the voters voting for them expect them to and their subsequent legislative behavior isn't remotely in alignment with what the voters wanted. I think you might be misunderstanding my position. I don't want to see party affiliation hidden at the polls. My critique is of the party system as it works currently in the US, period. Both parties end up depending on the patronage of business and industrial interests to run their operations, and ultimately, those funds come with certain legislative expectations--usually specific tweaks to existing law or new law that in some way serve those interests. Those business interests aren't necessarily always a bad thing in themselves, but it makes the focus for politicians on either side less about the public interest and more about keeping their biggest patrons happy in one way or another.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:10 AM on July 1, 2013


Slate just added some more information to the article:

Update: This test—a word-processed transcript of an original—was linked to by Jeff Schwartz, who worked with the Congress of Racial Equality in Iberville and Tangipahoa Parishes in the summer of 1964. Schwartz wrote about his encounters with the test in this blog post.

Writes Schwartz:
One error and you didn't pass — if you were African-American. The white voter registrars made the pass-fail decisions. Who appointed these voter registrars? The white parish (county) commissioners — that's who. Who elected the white parish commissioners? The mostly white population of registered voters, that's who — even if they were not really a majority of the parish population. If you're not registered to vote, you can't vote. Therefore, all the politicians who made the rules were white. And the police chiefs that enforce the laws were all white. And the policemen they hired were all white. If you are not registered to vote, you can't serve on a jury, so any time there's a criminal charge or a civil dispute in the courts, the judges and juries are all white. That's how it was in Tangipahoa Parish in the summer of 1964, and throughout most of Louisiana.

It was a vicious cycle, and no way for the African-American residents to win. Yet the courage of the Black community led many determined souls to go to Freedom Schools, learn how to take the test and make no easy mistakes, endure the slights, derision, and stonewalling (and even threats) from white registrars, and come back again and again, more determined than ever to win the right to vote and demonstrate the illegitimacy of the system that kept them from exercising that right.

At the end of the summer of 1964, I went back to Ohio State University in Columbus, and together with other freedom summer workers organized the "I'm illiterate" campaign. We made up buttons that said "I'm Illiterate". We administered the Louisiana voter registration test to our fellow college students, then flunked all the white students and passed all the Black ones — just to show how the Louisiana system worked (only in reverse). We gave all the students who took the test an "I'm Illiterate" button and told them to explain it to their friends, family, roommates, and others. This led to a 1964 voting rights march on campus — to urge our U.S. senators to vote for the Voting Rights bill. In 1965, after the police brutality at the Selma Bridge march, that bill became law
.
posted by cjelli at 8:16 AM on July 3, 2013 [14 favorites]


And yet more information in another post:

I contacted Jeff Schwartz, the former volunteer with the civil rights group Congress of Racial Equality, who had recommended that this word-processed version of the test be included on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website, which is where I first came across it. Schwartz reported that he originally found this copy on what he remembers as “an educational website” and recognized it as “the same in all material respects” as the test he had seen while doing voter registration and support in Iberville and Tangipahoa Parishes in the summer of 1964.
...
I’ve tracked down the sources of the other copies of the test that exist on the Web. A version (PDF) hosted by the Tennessee State Library and Archives originally came from the CRMV site. The website of a Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher in Utah named Cher McDonald hosted a typescript copy (PDF) that looks more like something that would have been produced in 1964. McDonald reports that she received the test, along with another literacy test from Alabama, from a fellow teacher, who had been using them in the classroom for years but didn’t remember where they came from. (McDonald added that she tells her students about this uncertainty before using the tests in the classroom.)

After reading my original post, two history professors from Louisiana Tech, Drew McKevitt and David Anderson, pointed me to a Louisiana District Court decision from November 1963 (PDF), which ruled that tests based on interpretations of the Constitution (such as the 1963 version of the Louisiana test also posted on the CRMV site [PDF]) were unfair and unconstitutional. This might provide a historical explanation for the existence of the test I posted, which uses questions of the “brain-teaser” type rather than trivia about civics and the Constitution—a significant departure from previous practice.

...
If you have any further leads, please be in touch.
posted by cjelli at 1:35 PM on July 3, 2013 [7 favorites]


Thanks for posting the followups, cjelli. Schwartz's recollections make it sound even more like this was a big ol' "Fuck You" to both voting rights activists and the citizens they were trying to help.
posted by muddgirl at 1:47 PM on July 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


From The Advocate: La. voter registration test is mystery for historians
posted by komara at 9:03 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


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