Story at a glance

  • North Carolina’s constitution requires a voter literacy test, which has since been ruled unconstitutional.
  • Even though the amendment is effectively void, it remains a part of the state’s constitution.
  • After several failed attempts to remove the language, the state’s lawmakers are trying again.

Five years after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting, North Carolina voters refused to remove the requirement from their state constitution. 

Section 4 of Article 6, which deals with suffrage and eligibility for office, says, "Every person presenting himself for registration shall be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language." The amendment was ratified in 1900 — just a few decades after the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted citizenship to former slaves — and was used to keep Black Americans from voting and has also disenfranchised voters with disabilities and immigrants. 


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The Voting Rights Act of 1965 made such barriers to voting, including literacy tests, unlawful nationwide and a Supreme Court ruling in 1970 upheld the law for federal elections — but not state or local elections. The test is effectively unenforceable, but repeated efforts to remove the language from the state’s constitution have failed. 

The House Judiciary committee took up the debate again on Tuesday with a bill to repeal the provision pending public approval in a referendum. If the bill makes it out of committee, it must win support from three-fifths of the House and the Senate. 


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Published on Mar 30, 2021