One in five American adults struggles to read at a basic level. ProPublica examines the causes and consequences of America’s literacy crisis to illuminate a path forward.
This story was co-published with Gray TV/Investigate TV.
Before 1965, many Southern states forced voters to prove they could read before casting a ballot, a requirement primarily designed to keep Black people from voting. The Voting Rights Act put an end to those polling site exams. But a ProPublica investigation found that the efforts to block people who have difficulty reading from casting a ballot continue, especially in the South. In fact, today's election system remains a modern-day literacy test.
Olivia Coley-Pearson knows this better than most. She has been criminally charged twice in the past decade for her attempts to help people navigate their ballots; she has never been found guilty of any wrongdoing. Now 60, she serves as a city commissioner in Douglas, the majority-Black seat of Coffee County, where a third of the population struggles to read. On the day of Georgia’s primary elections in May, she woke up early to rally voters and volunteer. ProPublica followed her to capture what it takes to ensure that voters who need help can get it.
To learn more, check out ProPublica’s investigation of Coley-Pearson’s fight and the persistent suppression of low-literacy voters, read our story about successful voting reforms, and see our guide on how to get help with voting.