Literacy tests are still in the North Carolina constitution. Lawmakers want to change that.

By: - February 27, 2023 6:30 am

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 06: Shenita Binns (3rd L) and her daughter Ysrael Binns (4th L) of Atlanta, Georgia, participate in a “Freedom Friday March” protest at Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial August 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. Activists continued to demonstrate for voting rights on the 56th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act and urged the US Senate “to end the filibuster so we can pass legislation to solve the urgent crises confronting our nation, voting rights, DC statehood, and reparations.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Legislators have raised a bill that would repeal the literacy test requirement as a condition to vote in North Carolina, provided voters approve the constitutional amendment in a future election.

The use of literacy tests is not enforceable because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but they are still a part of the North Carolina constitution.

A new state constitution took effect in 1971, featuring a slew of amendments that were ratified by North Carolinians. But the people did not approve an amendment passed by the General Assembly that would have repealed the literacy test, even though the Voting Rights Act made it un-enforceable. Those tests were used in North Carolina and across the South to prevent African Americans from registering to vote.

Before winning a seat on the state Supreme Court last election cycle, Richard Dietz suggested removing literacy tests  from the state constitution, claiming that their continued presence in such an important state document  dulls its shine.

“I think when people look at the state constitution, we want to be proud to see those rights that are in there,” Dietz said at a candidate forum before getting elected. “I’d like to see we the people get together and delete some of that stuff.”

Lawmakers apparently heard him. The bill before the legislature currently has more than 80 sponsors. The primary sponsors are Rep. Kelly M. Alexander, Jr. (D-Mecklenburg), Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), Rep. Terry M. Brown Jr. (D-Mecklenburg) and Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry).

Voters would have to approve the constitutional amendment in a statewide general election held on Nov. 5, 2024.

[This story has been update to clarify that the Governor plays no role in the approval of constitutional amendments.]

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.