A classic example of a test designed to produce whatever result the tester wants.
The good folks at Slate dug up this carefully-designed “literacy” test from mid-century Louisiana. It was one of many ways post-Reconstruction state governments carefully prevented black citizens from exercising their right to vote, all under the guise of protecting the vote from those unqualified to make an informed decision. To everyone’s complete surprise, there was a pattern to those found unfit to vote. A complexion, one might almost say.
As an amateur student of the ways people lie to each other, I’m actually kind of impressed with the design of this test. On the surface, it passes itself off as a simple series of written instructions, a surface just plausible enough to fool those who want to be fooled. Underneath that, it’s a masterpiece of bad design, with questions worded so poorly that any of several answers can be scored as right or wrong, depending on how the person checking the test wants it to come out. Then, too, a ten-minute time limit and a perfect score sound almost reasonable, until you imagine taking the entire test under the gaze of a sheriff who keeps muttering “Taking your time, aren’t you?”
Of particular note are the commenters on Slate’s article, and their willingness to believe that this test is both easy and reasonable. If 21st-century citizens can rationalize away this kind of blatant dishonesty, how much easier was it 60 years ago? And how easy will it be to justify the multiple vote-restricting laws being pushed in the wake of the Voting Rights Act being struck down?