Vol. 2, Issue 28, July 20, 2004
White House Suggests Reinstating Literacy Requirements for Voting
In a press conference trumpeting the President's contributions to the education system, the White House announced on Friday that it was considering ways to make the elections safer and less subject to the problems which plagued the 2000 elections in Florida.
"Thanks in part to efforts such as the No Child Left Behind Act, we've worked to ensure that every man, woman, and child today is as literate as can be," said President Bush in a question and answer session with journalists. "And we've also worked to make sure that our elections are free and democratic. So I think a No Voter Left Behind Act may be the next logical step."
The proposed initiative would allegedly help prevent the ballot-related problems experienced in parts of Florida during the last presidential elections. Some voters complained that the ballots were unclear and that their votes may not have been recorded properly as a result.
"To coin a phrase, with great power comes great responsiblity," said Bush. "Voting is a great responsibility. I think it's reasonable to make sure that our American voters are able to meet minimum requirements in order to do that."
Congressional and civil rights leaders opposed the idea vehemently.
"This is unbelievable," said Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga). "We have been fighting for generations to remove restrictions like this, and the President is just going to wave his hands and set up the roadblocks again? If it was anyone else but George Bush who said this I would think this was a joke. But I know he doesn't have a sense of humor."
State and local officials have long sought to restrict the right to vote, mainly in an effort to prevent blacks from voting. Five years after the Civil War, in 1870 the 15th Amendment was ratified, which provided specifically that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude. This superseded state laws that had directly prohibited black voting. Congress then enacted the Enforcement Act of 1870, which contained criminal penalties for interference with the right to vote, and the Force Act of 1871, which provided for federal election oversight.
"Well, the president's initiative isn't really racially motivated," said Oswald Hubbard, professor of political science at U. Texas, Dallas. "And one could argue that a basic level of competency should be expected from voters. But to suggest that the No Child Left Behind Act has already made our nation a more literate place is like suggesting the tooth fairy has reduced cavities."
The White House dismissed concerns that the literacy requirement conflicted with the 15th Amendment.
"Look, everyone knows that the odd-numbered amendments are sort of troublesome and prone to abuse," said Vice President Dick Cheney. "I don't need to tell you about the First Amendment - that's been a recipe for disaster since day one. The 7th Amendment, trial by jury, clearly wasn't designed for 21st century anti-terrorism needs. And don't get me started on the 19th Amendment."
Democratic candidate John Kerry was surprisingly noncommittal about the proposed requirement.
"I am not going on record as saying literacy is bad, or that voters shouldn't have some responsibility in terms of being informed enough to read a ballot," said Kerry. "Moreover, the last time I checked, the illiteracy rate in Texas was substantially higher than the national average. So if the President wants to reduce the number of eligible voters from his home state, who am I to complain?"