Understanding tests Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Form of literacy test requiring prospective voters to demonstrate understanding of a portion of the U.S. Constitution or a state constitution.

In an effort to circumvent the Fifteenth Amendment, which gave the right to voteVote, right to to African Americans, many southern states, beginning in the latter part of the nineteenth century, used poll taxes and literacy requirements to prevent African Americans from registering to vote. Part of the literacy requirement in some states was understanding tests, which commonly required prospective voters to read and explain a provision of the U.S. Constitution or the state constitution. Voting registrars sometimes had discretion to choose the passage to be interpreted and judge the adequacy of the explanation given. The discretion vested in registrars provided the opportunity for widespread discrimination against African Americans voters.Voting Rights Act of 1965

The Supreme Court confronted the issue of literacy tests several times. In Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections[case]Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections[Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections] (1959), the Court upheld the use of literacy tests on the grounds that they had some relationship to intelligent voter choices. The Court did say, however, that should a state law give election officials complete discretion to determine whether prospective voters understood the constitutional passages they were given to interpret, that law might be unconstitutional. The Court subsequently did hold such a law unconstitutional in Louisiana v. United States[case]Louisiana v. United States[Louisiana v. United States] (1965). Because of the difficulty in determining when literacy tests were being used to perpetuate racial discrimination, Congress suspended their use in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Civil Rights movement

Fifteenth Amendment

Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections

Nominations to the Court

Vote, right to

Voting Rights Act of 1965

Categories: History