Kansas public official suggests that students and other “slow learners” shouldn’t vote

In case it wasn’t already obvious, public officials in Kansas have some odd thoughts and feelings about voting.

From the Wichita Eagle:

kansas

Image from Kansas.com via John Hanna / Facebook.

A Brownback administration spokeswoman criticized the League of Women Voters on social media for promoting a college course aimed at registering to students to vote.

The League is partnering with professors at Washburn, Emporia State and Fort Hays State universities to develop a lesson plan on Kansas voting laws that can be taught over a day or a week with the goal of helping college students successfully register to vote and enabling them to help their peers do the same.

Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, panned the idea on Facebook.

“So it takes an entire semester to learn how to register to vote. Really?” de Rocha wrote on Facebook around noon on Monday. “Do we want these slow learners voting? Or is this a stealth course paid for by taxpayers to train left-wing ‘community organizers’ like the League of Women Voters on how to agitate?”

As a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Age and Disability Services, I’m sure de Rocha will soon come to appreciate just how offensive it is to say that “slow learners” shouldn’t vote.

As Rick Hasen notes on Election Law Blog, de Rocha’s assertion echoes a familiar refrain heard from conservatives around the country of late — that arbitrary benchmarks of sophistication are reason enough to disqualify someone from the ballot. As I’ve written before, when you make the claim that competence matters in determining who should be allowed to vote, you aren’t just making a claim about voting rights; you’re making a claim about the very definition of democracy.

It’s also particularly rich for de Rocha to claim that the League of Women Voters is a team of “left wing ‘community organizers'” given that the organization’s mission is simply to be pro-voting. I mean, I know conservatives have turned voting into a partisan issue of late, but damn.

De Rocha’s dismissal of students voting looks especially bad in Kansas, a state that has perhaps gone farther out of its way than any other state to make it difficult for people who aren’t rich, old and white to vote in recent years.

Kris Kobach, via Wikimedia Commons

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s precisely because Kansas has gone to such great lengths to make voting more difficult that voter education courses like the one the League of Women Voters is promoting here have become necessary. As the Eagle pointed out, more than 40 percent of people on the state’s “suspended voters list” — a list of people who are eligible to vote but did not submit proof of citizenship when they registered — are under the age of thirty. Many live on or near college campuses. As Kansas is one of just two states in the country that keeps separate voter rolls — one list for voters eligible to vote in all elections, and one for voters who are only eligible to vote in federal elections — the average citizen probably does need to sit down and have the process explained to them if they want to understand it fully. What’s more, the particulars of Kansas’s voting laws and how they differ from the rest of the country’s are not included in the state’s social studies curriculum or civics classes, so an optional college course seems to be the least the state could do to educate its citizens about how to participate in their own self-governance.

Of course, this flies in the face of what we generally think the principles of a democratic society should require. Voting is supposed to be easy precisely because we place only the most basic restrictions on eligibility. Being ruled mentally incapacitated by a judge is a valid reason to prevent someone from casting a ballot; failing to read up on the particulars of Kris Kobach’s latest regulation concerning voter registration procedures is not.

That is, as long as you think that the process really should be open to everyone.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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12 Responses to “Kansas public official suggests that students and other “slow learners” shouldn’t vote”

  1. Nicholas A Kocal says:

    If slow learners were not allowed to vote you would lose 95% of the republican base.

  2. JaneE says:

    Aside from the fact that being a slow learner and being stupid are not the same thing, even really dumb people have a right to their opinion, even an opinion on who is the better candidate for office. We can see the results of them voting in many states, and while it is a shame that the GOP can win elections, they still do.

  3. kladinvt says:

    That would disqualify the entire republiCON party!

  4. Hue-Man says:

    Be careful what you ask for. Applying this competency test, Democrats would receive 100% of the votes in every election!

  5. Doug105 says:

    Dead man walking.
    Proof even a conservative republican can learn.
    Wonder if Vegas is giving odds yet on how long he lives.

  6. Indigo says:

    It’s starting to look like the Republicans are having some successes in orchestrating a social roll-back.

  7. Zorba says:

    Thomas Frank wrote a book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas” back in 2004, about the rise of conservatism in the formerly-populist Kansas (among other states).
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/What's_the_Matter_with_Kansas%3F
    And then there was the extremely stupid, and well-covered, attempts by the forces of backwardness in Kansas a few years ago, to block the teaching of evolution in Kansas schools.

  8. 2karmanot says:

    That’s why most folks who truly know Kansas are proud to say they COME from there.

  9. nicho says:

    When I registered to vote in 1963, I was required to pass a “literacy test.” It was a slip of paper with a sentence written on it. I had to read the sentence. I passed.

    One my college professors went to register. His literacy test required him to name the amendments in the Bill of Rights and to explain the Fifth Amendment. As a newly minted PhD, specializing in the Constitution, he readily complied. He failed. Oh, did I mention that he was black and was registering to vote in Mississippi?

  10. BeccaM says:

    The ‘question of competence’ was used as a core rationale behind the racist Jim Crow voting laws which were prevalent in the South, particularly in the design and application of poll tests, which typically were only required of African American voters.

  11. Indigo says:

    Kansas carefully nurtures its image as a kindly Midwestern state but at this rate, the image is badly tarnished and the picture peeking through is of a state populated by raving bigots. That’s sad.

  12. gratuitous says:

    Considering the stubbornness of Kansas voters in returning clearly incompetent nitwits to high office in election after election, Ms. de Rocha should be very careful about suggesting that “slow learners” be disenfranchised. That could decimate the Republican base.

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