Joe Henderson: Civics lesson 101 — don’t make it harder for eligible people to vote
Image via Colin Hackley.

Making it harder to vote goes against what any civics educator would teach.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, like many Republican leaders, believes public schools should put more emphasis on civics instruction.

Well, OK – except Florida middle school students already have mandatory civics classes. Since 2017, the law requires students entering state colleges “must demonstrate competency in civic literacy.”

That includes an understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the basic principles of American democracy. Fine and dandy. We’ll start with the part about how requiring people to wear masks in public during the pandemic is not against the Constitution.

There seems to be some confusion about that.

Oh, and free and fair elections where every eligible person can vote, that’s big too.

That brings us to the latest GOP flashpoint. Florida Republicans and those in many other states are merrily pushing through changes to election laws.

They say it will protect against (cough, cough) fraud.

No, it will make it harder for people to vote, especially minorities and immigrants. It’s deliberate, cynical, and totally against everything a civics instructor would teach. But because Republicans got their butts kicked in many states they believed they would carry in 2020, they have a simple solution.

Block the box.

Pay no attention to the juxtaposition of reality and hyperbole. In pushing for civics instruction, DeSantis said schools have become “indoctrination factories” and academics “engage in politicized academic fads with courses that reflect ideology, not facts.”

Well, I suppose that depends on one’s point of view.

Look, I’m all on board with requiring students to acquire a working knowledge of how their government operates. Perhaps, though, this isn’t the best time to argue that instructors teach ideology over facts.

Listen, folks, we know what the deal is with these moves.

Everyone knows.

They target minority voters and immigrants because Republicans believe that their party has a greater chance of losing if more people vote. That’s probably true in many states.

However, what’s the explanation for how Donald Trump easily carried Florida in 2020 when the turnout was 77% — its highest percentage since 1992? The two counties with the highest voter turnout – Collier (90%) and Sumter (88%) — are GOP strongholds.

Republicans create phantom enemies, such as those who vote by mail or want extended early voting days. Yet, the Associated Press reported that despite a record number of mailed-in ballots, Florida’s rejection rate was just shy of 0.3%.

But no, GOP lawmakers say we’ve got to tighten up, so our elections are secure (which they already are).

Minorities hear a different message: We don’t want you to vote.

When stuff like that happens in plain sight, it’s no wonder many people feel marginalized. If lawmakers want to make that go away, abide by the Constitution they claim to embrace.

Fat chance of that happening though.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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