Newt Gingrich is facing criticism for yet another idea he has floated during his presidential campaign — that the country bring back tests for voting, which were banned by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a tool used to suppress African-American voters. Now, Think Progress reports, none other than Tea Party favorite Rep. Allen West (R-FL), an African-American, is disagreeing — and referring to the sort of discrimination that his own parents faced.
Think Progress asked West about Gingrich’s position that there should be a required knowledge of history in order to vote.
“I mean, that’s going back to some, you know, times that my parents had to contend with,” said West, who then segued into discussing his concerns with America’s education system failing young people, and his admiration of a high school student in his district who has sought to be an intern for him.
He returned to the subject in conclusion: “I think that we need to do a better job educating our young men and women in school, but we don’t need to have a litmus test, no.”
In the pre-Voting Rights Act era, the Jim Crow states used literacy tests as a means of preventing African-Americans from registering to vote. Local registrars (who were all white) would often exempt white voters entirely or only give them a simple task, compared to a complex series of civics questions given to black citizens. (Here is an actual literacy test used in Alabama.)
As Matt Yglesias reported over the weekend, Gingrich said during a speech to the Georgia Republican Party:
“You know, folks often talk about immigration. I always say that to become an American citizen, immigrants ought to have to learn American history. [applause] But maybe we should also have a voting standard that says to vote, as a native born American, you should have to learn American history. [applause] You realize how many of our high school graduates because of the decay of the educational system, couldn’t pass a citizenship test.”