Voters, Parties, and Elections
In August 1956, a young man who had graduated with honors from North Carolina A & T State University three years earlier did not satisfy the voting registrar in Richmond County that he could read, write, and understand a section of the U.S. Constitution in the English language. Therefore, he did not qualify to vote. He was one of numerous African Americans in the pre- Civil Rights Act days in the state who were judged to fail this requirement to participate in the state's democratic elections. Subsequently, with a different registrar, he did qualify and did register to vote. Later he graduated with honors from the school of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1969, he was the first African American to be elected to the General Assembly in this century, serving in each house. Here he introduced legislation to abolish the state literacy test by amending the constitution. Since 1983, this man, Henry Frye, has served as an associate justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court as the first—and only—African American to sit on the state's highest tribunal, having been elected by the state's voters in 1984 and reelected in 1988 and 1992. 1
This episode from the state's history illustrates the significant change that has occurred in North Carolina's electoral politics. But the experience of Associate Justice Frye should not be viewed as typical—either in the difficulty he had in registering to vote or in the success he has had in achieving high public office.
The right to vote is basic to a democratic polity and fundamental to a definition of citizenship. How a state approaches the definition and administration of voting rights tells much about its character. The extent and manner of voting participation in electing public officials shed light on the level of democratic commitment among a state's citizens. An examination of voter