An Iowa bill introduced to the state legislature last week intends to increase instruction of the "principles of citizenship" in government classes for students in public high schools.
However, according to the sponsor of the legislation, teaching students about voting procedures does not qualify as one of those “principles.”
Under House File 423, introduced by Iowa state Rep. Pat Grassley (the grandson of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley , R-Iowa), public schools would specifically eliminate the high school social studies requirement to teach “voting statutes and procedures, voter registration requirements, the use of paper ballots and voting systems in the election process, and the method of acquiring and casting an absentee ballot.”
Instead, the bill states that students would receive more instruction about the structure of the federal government and “the overlapping features and responsibilities of the national, state, county and local governments.”
But according to Progress Iowa, a liberal-leaning political advocacy group, the proposal is disturbing in the wake of an election season where several states passed laws that critics say were intended to suppress voter participation.
“Grassley’s proposal flies directly in the face of Iowa’s proud tradition of voter participation," Matt Sinovic, the executive director of the group, said in a statement. “If he doesn’t think voting is a principle of American citizenship, then what is? Nothing is more fundamental to being American or Iowan than exercising our right to vote.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, in the same vein, recently heard a challenge to the “preclearance” provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That section requires states with a history of racial discrimination to report any changes in voting procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice, in order to ensure those changes do not impede voting opportunities for any specific group.
About 1.5 million Iowans voted in the 2012 election, equaling about 72 percent of the state’s registered voters – the highest recorded turnout in 20 years. An unprecedented 584,000 voters took advantage of early voting, often one of the little-known voting practices currently outlined in social studies courses.
In response to the proposal, Progress Iowa has launched a grass-roots petition asking state residents to tell Grassley that “voting is a principle of citizenship."
Grassley’s office on Monday morning did not immediately return a request for comment.