ThinkProgress filed this report from a town hall in Riviera Beach, FL.
One of the principal tactics used to prevent minorities from voting in the Jim Crow South was the poll test, which required blacks to demonstrate specific standards of literacy before being allowed to vote. America seemingly closed the door on that unfortunate and unconstitutional chapter of our history with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, over the weekend, one of the leading Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich, revived the idea of a poll test as a requirement for voting, endorsing a “voting standard that says to vote, as a native born American, you should have to learn American history.”
ThinkProgress asked Rep. Allen West (R-FL) about the former House Speaker’s comments before a town hall meeting in Riviera Beach. West, who is the sole Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus, was visibly taken aback at the fact that one of his party’s leading contenders for the presidency endorsed such a proposal. The Florida congressman slammed Gingrich’s idea as “going back to some times that my parents had to contend with.” West went on to criticize the proposal as a “litmus test” that we “don’t need”:
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.
Still, Gingrich is not entirely alone in his call to revive poll tests. Last year, former Republican congressman and presidential candidate Tom Tancredo proposed a similar “civics-literacy test” requirement for voting.
But for Gingrich, the flap over his poll test idea is just another misstep in a presidential campaign that has been defined by one gaffe after the next. In March, the former House Speaker endured intense criticism for his brazen flip-flop on intervention in Libya. This past weekend, Gingrich angered conservatives by walking away from the Ryan budget, which House Republicans supported 235-4, and characterizing it was “right-wing social engineering.”
Once a purported frontrunner, Gingrich’s star is fading fast among voters and the conservative cognoscenti. On Monday, an irate Republican voter in Iowa confronted Gingrich on video, calling him “an embarrassment to our party” and telling the former House Speaker to “get out before you make a bigger fool of yourself.” Conservative columnist George Will echoed the sentiment, declaring on ABC’s This Week that Gingrich “is just not a serious candidate.”