Teaching the New Poll Tax

In 1995, when OJ Simpson was on trial, the debate over his innocence or guilt took over the teaching of first year college English in many places because it epitomized the complex dynamics of racial politics in the U.S.  I am hoping that something similar will happen around voting laws this fall, for the very same reasons.  There’s a lot of good information to be had to launch the discussions. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice paints a frightening picture of the extensive sweep of the new poll tax, restricting voting access for million of U.S citizens.  The statistics are daunting:

At least 180 restrictive bills introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states.

47 restrictive bills currently pending in 12 states.

24 laws and 2 executive actions passed since the beginning of 2011 in 19 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin).

16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia). These states account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.

Of these, 13 laws and executive actions are currently in effect in 9 states (Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia).

2012 Summary of Voting Law Changes” Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden

Just a quick glance at a map of the states where these new laws have been enacted illustrates their political intent.  The election of the first Black president has fueled some of the most reactionary legislation in decades, much of it aimed at keeping the poor and non-white and elderly– all groups unlikely to vote Republican– out of the electoral process.  The Voting Rights Act, along with Roe v. Wade, Social Security, and Medicare, is clearly on the target list of the extreme far right (aka the Tea Party).  These new restrictive voting laws have been spearheaded by Republican governors and legislatures and are focused on states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, that played a key role in the last several presidential elections.  Students can listen to Bill Moyers’ interview with the authors of the report as well has his investigation into the difficulty of getting official identification.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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