One of the ways the African-American vote was suppressed under Jim Crow was through a “poll test,” which required prospective voters to answer a series of questions before they cast their ballot. This tactic was deemed illegal by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and later by the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but a certain Presidential candidate wants to bring poll tests back.
At a town hall meeting in Marshalltown, Iowa, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told attendees:
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.
If only we could take this as the isolated ramblings of a Presidential candidate pandering for conservative votes. The trouble is that Gingrich’s comments are part of a pattern of an enthusiasm for voter suppression that we haven’t seen in years.
Earlier this year, we saw New Hampshire House Speaker William O’Brien make similar comments at a Tea Party meeting, that young people “vote liberal” because they are “foolish” and “lack life experience.” At the same time O’Brien was pushing a bill to keep college students from voting in the towns where they attend school unless they or their parents had established permanent residency there, and also curb same-day registration.
In Florida, Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that limits early voting days and puts new restrictions on voter registration groups. The new law also forces voters who have moved from one county to another to cast provisional ballots, which are less likely to be counted; a provision blatantly targeted at students and other transient groups.
The cherry on top is the new controversial Voter ID law in Wisconsin, which requires a photo ID to cast a ballot. Here are some statistics on who doesn’t currently have photo ID in Wisconsin:
23% of voters 65 and over
17% of White men and women
55% of African-American men, 49% of African-American women
46% of Hispanic men, 59% of Hispanic women
78% of African-American men 18-24, 66% of African-American women 18-24
In addition, this bears repeating – parts of the voter ID bill will be in effect in time for the July 12 recall elections: specifically the residency requirements, which again disproportionately affect transient populations like students, minorities, and poorer citizens.
It’s not a coincidence that Walker, Scott, and O’Brien are passing voter suppression bills on the heels of anti-worker initiatives. They know their laws are objectionable to working families, so they are going after the one check we have on their power – our vote. Gingrich’s comments, while seemingly minor, show that voter suppression is par for the course for the Republican Party in 2011.