Newt Gingrich: Let’s Make Everyone Pass A Test Before They Can Vote

Via Matthew Yglesias, comes this excerpt from a recent Newt Gingrich speech that pretty clearly calls for a return of the kind of “poll tests” that were used in the South before the Voting Rights Act of 1965

“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.”

Even Tea Party favorite Cong. Allen West recognizes this as an absurd idea:

KEYES: Over the weekend, presidential contender Newt Gingrich came out and said he’d like to see some sort of poll test, throwing out the idea that maybe voters ought to have a certain standard knowledge of American history in order to be able to vote. What are your thoughts on that?

WEST: That’s going back to some times that my parents had to contend with. […] 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.

The great thing about Newt Gingrich is you never know what he’s going to say when he opens his mouth. The horrible thing about Newt Gingrich is you never know what he’s going to say when he opens his mouth.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Quick Takes, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    The great thing about Newt Gingrich is you never know what he’s going to say when he opens his mouth. The horrible thing about Newt Gingrich is you never know what he’s going to say when he opens his mouth.”

    LOL, well said!

    I have heard a similar proposal that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote. I haven’t made up my mind on this one but I am beginning to lean in favor of it. It follows Obama’s philosophy of having skin in the game.

  2. Southern Hoosier says:

    Sounds good to me.

  3. Simon says:

    I think he’s right. In years past, tests were impermissible because they were illegitimately used to pretextually exclude black voters. But that day has gone, and no one could seriously suggest Gingrich’s purposes are the same as the Jim Crow laws. In an era when polls routinely find widespread public ignorance on topics that are fundamentally important to properly casting a vote, and in which people are constantly told that their opinion is valuable per se, no matter how ill-informed, misbegotten, or erroneous, civic and historical literacy tests would serve a valuable gatekeeping function. They would not exclude anyone, because anyone can learn this stuff; it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to learn that no, the foreign aid budget is not 20% of federal spending. It’s sad that West can’t move past the abuse of the tool to a valid and useful purpose.

  4. Southern Hoosier says:

    After the ability to vote was extended to all races by the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment, many Southern states enacted poll tax laws which often included a grandfather clause that allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax.

    Requiring ALL citizens to have a certain level of competency in order to vote is not the same as a poll tax.

  5. Once again, the GOP lets their hatred for immigrants override their common sense.

    You’d think the people who spend so much time railing against liberal bias in academia would realize any such test would end up reflecting history as seen through the lens of the policy preferences of whomever controls the government agency tasked with writing the test.

    Do you really want, for example, a test that asks questions about the meaning of the comerce clause or the necessary and proper clause as written by the Obama administration?

  6. Moosebreath says:

    “In years past, tests were impermissible because they were illegitimately used to pretextually exclude black voters. But that day has gone, and no one could seriously suggest Gingrich’s purposes are the same as the Jim Crow laws. ”

    Sorry, but given Republicans regular use of other methods to keep poor people and minorities from voting (e.g., vote caging), I entirely seriously suggest this.

  7. wr says:

    Yes, here’s my poll test: Anyone dumb enough to vote for a Republican should not be allowed to vote.

  8. Murray says:

    How about first make candidates pass a test before they can run?

    No sooner has The Donald dropped out of the race that The Newt comes along challenging for the “most ridiculous candidate ever” prize..

  9. Gustopher says:

    Is it really a dog-whistle if everyone else can hear it?

  10. Southern Hoosier says:

    Stormy Dragon says:
    Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 16:18

    Once again, the GOP lets their hatred for immigrants override their common sense.

    How’s that? In order to vote an immigrant has to be a US citizen. And in order to be a US citizen, an immigrant has to pass a test.

    http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/blinstst_new.htm

  11. Another example, suppose these questions comes up:

    The second ammendment protects which of the following rights:
    1. The right of private individuals to posess firearms
    2. The right of the government to limit firearm position to official militia and to regulate those militia
    3. The right to a speedy trial
    4. The right to free speech

    True or False. The fourth ammendment protects the right to have an abortion

    True or False. The first ammendment protects the separation of church and state.

  12. How’s that?

    Oh, I agree it makes no rational sense, but then GOP immigration policy rarely does. However, Gingrich’s original comment makes it clear this is, in his mind anyways, tied to the GOP’s ongoing effort to make immigrants feel unwelcome as much as possible.

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    I propose this single question: “True or false: The southern states seceded in order to preserve the institution of slavery.”

    That’s all you need….

  14. Vast Variety says:

    Dems have Biden. GOP has Gingrich.

  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    People, people, people, there is no reason to be upset about Gingrich’s words! Tomorrow he’ll make a speech against a poll test. Then on Thursday he’ll come out in favor of a poll test. Then on Friday…

  16. mattb says:

    Ok… so on a tangent, in the last few days Newt has said that Obama is the “Food Stamp President” (as opposed the the “Paycheck President” Newt would be). Then there’s the idea of a Poll Test to prove someone’s a good “native born American.”

    Either he’s ridiculously tone deaf to the point of stupidity, or he’s decided it’s time to double down on the “I’m white and, in case you haven’t noticed the president is black” card.

  17. Liberty60 says:

    Where did this idea come from that Newt is somehow “The Perfesser”, that he is somehow the “Ideas Guy”?

    I can’t think of one single new idea or seriously intelligent thing he has said, and i remember him from back in the days when I was a fellow Republican.

    He traffics in stale shopworn conservative cliches, burnished by bombthrowing insults.

  18. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The real irony here is that if intelligence tests were prerequisites to voting the Democrat Party literally would disappear instantaneously. For those living under a rock or who are partially or perhaps fully brain dead that would be a good thing.

    That all said, the better way to fix the country would be to increase the federal minimum voting age to 35 and to cap the maximum voting age, oh, let’s say, at 85. For the simple and obvious reasons that if you aren’t old enough to be president then you shouldn’t have a say who is president and if you’ve already gone senile (in most cases) and in any event likely won’t live to see the next Census then you shouldn’t be affecting a national political decision that by definition has decades-long ripple effects.

  19. labman57 says:

    Curious. Conservatives are fond of thumping their chests and proclaiming their desire to block or repeal any legislation that they deem “unconstitutional”, yet they seem quite ignorant regarding what specifically is delineated within the main body and amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

  20. Ernieyeball says:

    Damn Tootin’. And we need prayer in public school too!
    Of course I will be the one to write the prayer. I will not submit it to anyone for approval.
    ALL the kids will be forced to say it! Even the Jehovah’s Witness kids, while they are forced to salute the American flag…especially at Christmas! Goddamn Heathens!

  21. TG Chicago says:

    I have heard a similar proposal that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote. I haven’t made up my mind on this one but I am beginning to lean in favor of it.

    Yeah, why let the unemployed vote?

  22. michael reynolds says:

    No, “Tsar Nicholas,” the real irony is that anyone who named himself after Tsar Nicholas — one of history’s more spectacular failures — would question anyone’s intelligence.

  23. Rixar13 says:

    Newt Gingrich wants to drag us back to the caves… smile 🙂

  24. MM says:

    We should also have a fee for processing this test. Something that covered costs buy is not too burdensome to your average landowner.

  25. Ernieyeball says:

    “Yeah, why let the unemployed vote?”
    TG Chicago. I know u are being facetious but I am sure PT McG is serious.
    Of course even consumers on food stamps pay sales tax on non food items and gas tax if they drive so I am sure PT McG would gladly let them vote.
    Just to let the rest of u know. My only income in 2011 was Unemployment Insurance Benefits.
    I paid $2100 combined Federal and State income Tax. Since I did not know I was going to be out of work the entire year I did not have taxes deducted from the UIB payments. This resulted in a penalty added to my Federal Income Tax. What a great system we have!

    CHICAGO MEAT WILL BEAT THE HEAT!!!!!!

  26. Ernieyeball says:

    “…income in 2010 was…”

    This comment system is worse than the IRS!

  27. Franklin says:

    It’s always tempting to have a test for things that you think other people shouldn’t be doing, whether it’s voting, parenting, or driving (oh, wait, they sort of have that last one!?). The fact is, though, Gingrich doesn’t know better than anyone else. Let’s say the first question is, “have you ever cheated on one of your many wives?”

  28. Ernieyeball says:

    “have you ever cheated on one of your many wives?”

    “..er..uh..well…but…I never told them who to vote for!”

  29. Davebo says:

    Once again, the GOP lets their hatred for immigrants override their common sense.

    What common sense are we referring to again?

    Just because James and Doug like to pretend the GOP is a group of rational people do we really have to ignore the base of their party (and in James’ situation, the payday?).

  30. matt says:

    Patrick T. McGuire : Why would you support a system where toddlers could vote?

  31. A voice from another precinct says:

    “But that day has gone, and no one could seriously suggest Gingrich’s purposes are the same as the Jim Crow laws.”

    Oh really? An old white southern man could not possibly suggest poll tests based on racist motives? I don’t think that Newt is a racist–understand me, and I won’t accuse him of such–but it is possible for his suggestion to serve additional purposes just the same, either by intention or lack of thought.

    The same holds true of Ron Paul and 1965. I don’t think he is fully aware of how out of touch he is. What he sees as a free market principle others may have seen as a chance to “keep those [insert n-word here] in their place.”

  32. A voice from another precinct says:

    “In an era when polls routinely find widespread public ignorance on topics that are fundamentally important to properly casting a vote, and in which people are constantly told that their opinion is valuable per se, no matter how ill-informed, misbegotten, or erroneous, civic and historical literacy tests would serve a valuable gatekeeping function. ”

    Anyone for historical literacy tests for OTB posters? Hmmmm? Would anyone pass?

    To play Devil’s Advocate for just a moment, such tests, while serving “a valuable gatekeeping function” would undoubtedly make this site SIGNIFICANTLY less entertaining.

  33. george says:

    Clearly if you can’t solve a system of linear differential equations you have no business voting. Let’s implement such tests immediately …

  34. Brian Fire says:

    NO ONE IN THIS COUNTRY SHOULD HAVE TO TAKE NO DAMN TEST! THE TEST IS TO SEE HOW LONG YOU CAN SURVIVE AMONGST A BUNCH OF IDIOTS! THE LAWS IN THIS COUNTRY AFFECT YOU LIFE….YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE TO MEET SOMEONES APPROVAL TO VOTE. THE LAWS OF THIS LAND AFFECT EVERYBODY LIVING HERE…THE FACT THAT YOU LIVE HERE MAKES YOU ELIGIBLE!!! WAKE UP…THIS IS NOTHING MORE THAN A PLOY TO OFFSET MINORITY VOTES. IT JUST HAPPENS TO POP UP AFTEWR REPUBLICANS LIE MISLEAD AND ULTIMATELY DISBAND “ACORN”…NOW THEY WANT TO TELL PEOPLE OF COLOR THEY CAN’T VOTE! WELL I SAY HELL NO!

  35. shaka zulu says:

    Let’s make everyone pass a test before they can RUN for office.

  36. What we have at the moment is mobocracy; it is certainly not democracy.

    One thing – we have to drop the idea that every man, just because he is twenty one, is capable of choosing who is the right person to decide the fate of nations.

    Age cannot be a decisive factor. We have to change the decisive factor, that is changing the very foundation.

    My suggestion is that only a person who is at least a matriculate, a high school graduate, will be able to vote.

    In this way mobocracy is destroyed.

    Then just because your are twenty one it does not mean you are capable of choosing the government.

    Choosing the government should be very skillful, intelligent job.

    Just by being twenty one you may be able to reproduce children, it needs no skill, no education, biology sends you well prepared.

    But to choose the government, to choose people who are going to have all the powers over you and everybody, and who are going to decide the destiny of the country and the world, just to be twenty one is certainly not enough . . . the way we have been choosing them is simply idiotic.

    I would like all the universities — within each state — to call a convention of all the Vice chancellors and the eminent professors; of the eminent intelligentsia who may not be part of the university: painters, artists, poets, writers, novelists, dancers, actors, musicians. It would include all dimensions of talents, all kinds of people who have shown their caliber — excluding politicians completely.

    All the Nobel Prize winners should be invited — excluding the politicians again, because within these past few years a few politicians have been given Nobel Prizes, and this has degraded the value the Nobel Prize.

    So from each state a delegation should be chosen for the national convention, which goes into details of how the meritocracy can work.

    From the national candidates there should be an international convention of all the universities of the world and the intelligentsia.

    This would be the first of its kind because never has whole intelligentsia of the world come together to decide the fate of humanity.

    Osho – Meritocracy

  37. mattb says:

    Ok… so without a doubt, Meritocracies, like Randian philosophy, are something that sounds great on paper and to people who missed a certain developmental step in college, but are terrible ideas in real life.

    For example, with Nobel Prize winners — let’s immediately exclude the often problematic Peace Prize (and yes, I think Obama’s winning it was problematic or rather emblematic of the problems related to politics/optics versus results) — when you start to go back through the list of whose won nobel prizes in arts and sciences, you suddenly discover a lot of scary crap.

    For example, past *SCIENCE* winners like Alexis Carrel and William Shockley were both fierce supporters of eugenics. Likewise, don’t even get me started on James Watson and race.

    And as for History tests, the question is whose history do we need to know? Just look at recent attempts to reframe American history in conservative states (Thomas Jeffers.. who?) or complaints about the new “cultural sensitive” histories that emerged in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s out of liberal cultural studies programs.

    Both ideas, Meritocracies and Poll Tests, are counter to many of the ideas and values that we have come to accept as American. And I for one don’t want to be in US that thinks that either of these is a good idea.

  38. Yet another disillusioned pawn says:

    Unlike mattb, I was unable to determine whether Meritocracy was trying for (and apparently failing at) irony and/or snarkiness. I decided to presume the worst and so, weigh in with these two observations:
    1. “What we have at the moment is mobocracy; it is certainly not democracy.” Unfortunately, “mobocracy” and “democracy” are essentially the same. One of the workable translations of the Greek word “demos” is, in fact, “mob.” Sadly, Merit, we can have both “mobocracy” and “democracy” at the same time. Additionally, we aren’t supposed to have a “democracy” at all, it’s a “republic” assembled under democratic principals. I will assign the blame for your misunderstanding to your high school civics teacher who, clearly, didn’t teach you the difference.

    2. While a “matriculate” (shouldn’t that be “matriculant” as the other is a verb?) is certainly a high school graduate, being one doesn’t automatically make you the other. Although the distinction has been blurred by the modern academic system that permits students to declare major on entering university, “to matriculate” is to have been accepted by a school or department within the same as an official student of that “major” There are still departments and disciplines where students must matriculate in order to continue their studies–the school of Education (ironically enough) at my alma mater and the engineering department at the University of Washington come to mind.

    Merit, your argument, at this point, is unclear and difficult to follow as to the working details because of the inconsistencies that I pointed out. Beyond those two snags, mattb has offered significant objections that need to be addressed. Do some research on your topic and come back when you understand what you believe well enough to actually present a coherent argument for it. The topic seems interesting–and well beyond the usual blather that Doug’s posts normally attract (as you can probably see by scrolling down these comments). Come back when you understand what you are talking about and give it another shot!

  39. Democracy means government by the people, of the people, for the people — but it is only in words.

    So it is not the people who rule, but the people who are chosen by them.

    What are your grounds for choosing? How do you manage to choose? And are you capable of choosing the right people? Have you been trained, educated for a democratic life? No, nothing has been done.

    The ignorant masses can be exploited very easily by very insignificant things. For example, Nixon lost his election against Kennedy and the only reason was that Kennedy looked better on television than Nixon; this is the analysis of the psychoanalysts.

    Nixon improved. When he discovered this, before the next election, he improved; he learned how to stand, how to walk, how to talk, how to dress.

    Now, as things are, the profession of the politician is the only profession which needs no qualification.

    Even if you want to be a plumber, some kind of qualification will be needed, some training in plumbing, some certificate.

    But if you want to be the president of America, no certificate is needed. It seems strange: plumbing is more important than the presidency of America! If you want to be a senator, no qualification is needed. If you want to be a teacher in a kindergarten school, qualifications are needed.

    All this can be changed by people of genius coming to the top.

    And the simple way is, make categories so universities become your centers of power, not governments; universities create your governors, your presidents, your vice-presidents, your senators.

    My vision is different. It is that the politician can be prevented from ruining the human societies of the world if he is prevented from directly controlling the government and the administration of the state.

    Meritocracy is not opposed to democracy; meritocracy is a concept of working through democracy. And sooner or later, with the growth of understanding, the specialist is going to be significant in the whole world. Maybe, sooner or later, everything will be in the hands of the expert, the knowledgeable.

    Osho – Meritocracy

  40. Vito Danelli says:

    I think Newt is absolutely correct. There should be some sort of test for the privilege of voting.

    In the original US Constitution, only white property-owning males could vote. Obviously, the property-owning requirement is long gone. The Founders were concerned about the “have-nots” voting to take away from the “haves”.

    In the 2008 presidential election, there was a huge black voter turnout for Obama. Do you think it was all about his policy positions or simply the fact that he was a “brother”?

  41. Ernieyeball says:

    Vito sez:
    “In the original US Constitution, only white property-owning males could vote. Obviously, the property-owning requirement is long gone.”

    Every printing of Our Great Charter that I have seen includes the Constitution as ratified plus all the Amendments. Clauses that were changed or obsolete are still there for all to see.
    If there ever was a clause that stated “only white property-owning males could vote.” maybe Vito or others who have made this claim can produce it.

    The Original US Constitution, amended, is the US Constitution in force today.
    As far as I can tell it leaves the qualifications for electors for Federal Legislative and Executive branches of government up to the States until the adoption of the 14th Amendment.

    Lifted from US CON

    Art. I Sec. 2 Par. 1
    The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.
    Art. I Sec. 3 Par. 1
    The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, (chosen by the Legislature thereof,) (The preceding words in parentheses superseded by 17th Amendment, section 1.

    Art. II Sec. II Par. 2
    Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

    Amendment IV Sec. 1
    The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

    Amendment XVII Sec. 1
    The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

    Amendment XIX Sec.1
    The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

    Amendment XXIII Sec. 1
    The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct: A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

    Amendment XXVI Sec.1
    The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

  42. Andy Wallace says:

    Well, at least it would keep Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman from voting.