ThinkProgress filed this report from a campaign event in Marshalltown, IA
Last week, former GOP House Speaker and current presidential candidate Newt Gingrich suggested that American citizens should have to pass a test in American history before they could earn the right to vote. Despite rampant criticism from both sides of the aisle, Gingrich reiterated his support for poll tests yesterday at a town hall meeting in Marshalltown, IA.
Speaking in front of a crowd made up largely of senior citizens, Gingrich reiterated his argument that since immigrants need to pass a test to become American citizens, “young Americans” should be forced to do the same “before they start voting.” A majority of the crowd seemed to approve, giving Gingrich resounding applause:
GINGRICH: [Immigrants] need to pass a test of American history. And candidly, it wouldn’t be bad to have a test like that for young Americans before they start voting.
Gingrich didn’t elaborate on the definition of “young Americans” or at what age a citizen becomes acceptable to vote without passing a test. But his comments reflect a general lack of knowledge in numerous areas — including the education system, the citizenship process, and Americans’ struggles with civics.
An 18-year-old who is eligible to vote for the first time, for instance, is likely still in a high school where he or she took at least one American history class, as required by education curricula across the country. Most students take multiple American history classes throughout their educational careers.
In order to gain citizenship, an immigrant must pass a citizenship test that is based largely on the understanding of American civics and history. But as ThinkProgress’ Matt Yglesias noted, “if Gingrich himself wants to avoid flunking history he might take note of the fact that making US citizens take a poll test would be illegal under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That’s for the very good reason that the historical purpose of such proposals has been to prevent black people form voting.”
Conservatives across the country are moving to disenfranchise voters as fast as they can through restrictive voter identification laws and other means, but the idea of a poll test stands out as particularly extreme. Indeed, Florida Rep. Allen West (R), who is black, dismissed Gingrich’s original comments as something “my parents had to deal with.”