A study from the Center for the Study of the American Dream at Xavier University in Cincinnati found that 35% of native born citizens couldn't pass a civics test.

Immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship have to pass a 10-question civics test asking basic questions about American history and government, and about 93% succeed.

But only 65% of native-born Americans could get the required six out of 10 right answers when asked the same questions in a telephone poll. [...]

Ford noted that 44% of those with a high school education or less passed the test, rising to 82% among college grads.

Have any states proposed bills (or have enacted laws) to require a prospective voter to pass a civics test before voting since the Voting Rights Act of 1965? (if so, which bill?)


2 Answers 2


No states have this requirement, and it's unclear if such a requirement would even be legal.

One of the core issues the Voting Rights Act addressed was the use of literacy tests, civics tests, intelligence tests, etc. which were frequently employed by southern states to systematically disenfranchise black voters there. The act contains language (in section 2) which prohibits any voting law that has a discriminatory effect, regardless of what the actual intent of the law is. That language lends itself to very broad interpretation, since it does not define what a discriminatory effect is or what outcomes would be acceptable.

Furthermore, it's politically untenable to get such a measure passed given the current controversies surrounding race relations, police brutality, illegal immigration, etc. Consider voter ID laws which several states have passed in recent years. They are consistently struck down by the courts on the "discriminatory effects" argument even though it's an unambiguous requirement that you must be a legal U.S. citizen to vote.

Most Americans would agree that it's pretty egregious how a significant portion of the voting population doesn't even have a basic grasp of how their own government works. However, it's impossible to rectify that problem because there will always be an argument at the ready that any such solution would disenfranchise some voters somewhere who, for whatever reason, wouldn't be able to pass that test.

Also note that the links provided in @Drunk Cynic's answer only deal with high school graduation requirements, not voting requirements (which, in my opinion, should be so patently obvious that I'm shocked we actually need laws to make it so -- how have we been letting people graduate HS without knowing at least that??)

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    "They are consistently struck down by the courts on the "discriminatory effects" argument even though it's an unambiguous requirement that you must be a legal U.S. citizen to vote." For clarification, the main point of contention being that many people who are legal US citizens may not have valid photo IDs nor the resources to obtain one.
    – JAB
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 17:11
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    @JAB Right, but that is inextricably linked to the argument that minorities are disproportionately affected by that (being less likely to have said resources to obtain one).
    – Wes Sayeed
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 18:54

While not a direct prerequisite for voting, there are states that have passed, or proposed, laws mandating passage of the civics test used in the naturalization process for graduation of High School. Given that the current age of majority is 18, and that most students turn 18 while in high school, they will take the test prior to voting.

It is currently a requirement in the state of Missouri to take an examination as a high school senior on the Missouri and United States of America Constitution. There is an active effort to amend that requirement through legislation to utilize the same test for Missouri high school graduates that the legal immigrants trying to become naturalized citizens. St. Louis Story.

This is apart of an expanding effort in a number of states; Arizona passed the law January 2015 as the first state, with North Dakota as the second.

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    Having (relatively) recently passed the immigrant test, I would hope that most Americans born here could pass the requirement of getting 6 out of 10 questions (drawn from the pool) correct. I was able to answer the first six correctly, just from the "osmotic" effect of living here (and being somewhat engaged with current affairs). As an immigrant, if you answer the first six correctly they don't bother asking any more; you can't get extra citizenship marks for getting higher than 6/10. :-)
    – Peter K.
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 12:51
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    Do you need a high school degree to be allowed to vote? I don't think so.
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 8:54
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    @Philipp Thus the "not a direct prerequisite for voting" disclaimer. Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 13:31
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    @DrunkCynic Then how is your answer on-topic?
    – Philipp
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 13:35
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    @J.Chang : But if you are born a US citizen...
    – Evargalo
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 8:07

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