ILLEGAL CIVICS SYLLABUS Once upon a time, the most controversial high school subjects were sex education and evolution. The 2011 Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott changed that with House Bill 1355. Now the topic that’s most likely to get a teacher in trouble is civics, especially if it involves helping students register to vote.
Dawn Quarles, a government and history teacher at Pace High School, is being fined $1,000 for violating a state law where third party voter registrars have only 48 hours to turn in voter registration cards in their custody. Volusia County teacher Jill Cicciarelli has been notified that she could also be fined for similarly corrupting the state’s future leaders.
Quarles and Cicciarelli are part of a cadre of subversive teachers who have committed similar illegal acts. The impressionable young minds in their classrooms might actually participate in the democratic process and possibly vote differently from their parents. Egad, these teachers could be raising–dare I write it?–liberals.
The youth (ages 18-29) voter turnout rose to 51 percent in 2008, an increase of two percentage points from the 2004 Presidential election. In the 2008 general election, nationwide, 58.2 percent of African-American youth voted, which is the highest turnout rate of any youth racial/ethnic group since 1972. Experts credited the jump in youth voters to state laws that allowed early voting at convenient locations, no-excuse absentee voting, and voter registration at state motor vehicle agencies.
Well, the Republicans who controlled our state government put an end to that nuisance this past year. For the first time, since the Jim Crow years, state lawmakers made it harder to register to vote and cast a ballot.
Besides restricting voter registration drives, HB 1355 reduced early voting from 15 days to eight days and prohibited additional early-voting sites. Voters who have moved or changed their name since the last election, which would include college students and military, can only update their status at the polls if they have moved within the same county. All others must cast provisional ballots, which means a canvassing board must approve the ballot.
The real target of these new rules is the younger African-American voters, the ones least likely to vote for Rick Scott and the gang. African-American early voters were younger than their white neighbors. The average age of white voters was 55, while the mean for blacks was 10 years lower, at 45.
In the process of suppressing votes that might be in their favor, the state legislature created an unintended consequence. They turned our teachers into criminals for doing what they have done for decades–encouraging their students to participate in the political process.