Thursday, April 06, 2006
NEW ORLEANS AND ABSENTEE BALLOTING
What follows is a letter from our old friend Lance down in New Orleans concerning the true impact of absentee balloting there.
I read your column on absentee balloting today. I have not seen the instructions for absentee ballots, but I do have a copy of the Mail Voter Registration form which first-time voters have to use to register absentee, and I can't imagine that this process wont have a profoundly racially discriminatory effect. Consider the following: A 2002 U.S. Department of Education study concluded that 40% of adult New Orleans residents read at "level one literacy," which is below the 6th grade level, and a disproportionate number of these low-level readers are African American and poor. The criteria used to define "level one literacy" includes the inability to perform reading tasks such as locating an intersection on a street map or filling out a social security card application. If a voter applicants living in New Orleans has reading problems, they can register in person at the Registrars office and an election official will assist them in reading and filling out the application. In contrast, a voter applicant living in another city must fill out the Louisiana Mail Voter Registration Application form without any assistance from election officials. The registration form has 19 separate instructions and includes the following language (my emphasis added):
AFFIRMATION: "that I am currently not under a judgment of full interdiction or limited interdiction where my right to vote has been suspended, that I am a bona fide resident of this state or parish...If I have provided false information, I may be subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 ($2,500 for subsequent offense) or imprisonment for not more than 1 year (5 years for subsequent offense), or both. Any false statement may constitute perjury."
The vocabulary it this excerpt (including Latin phrases) would challenge most college educated readers (I have no idea what "full or limited interdiction" means), yet the applicant, who could be as young as 17 years old, is asked to sign the "affirmation" at the risk of fine and imprisonment. Elsewhere on the application, the 40% of the New Orleans residents who lack the reading skills to find an intersection on map are asked:
"If you use a rural route or and box number, draw a map in the space labeled 'Give Location.' Write the names of the crossroads (streets) nearest where you live. Draw an X to show where you live. Use a dot to show any schools, churches, stores or landmarks near where you live and write the name of the landmark."
Good luck. Like most voters, I'd rather wait in line at a voting poll than have to decipher this form and risk a stretch in Parish Prison.
The net effect of "correspondence voting" is that a large percentage of poor African Americans will be discouraged from voting because of past inequities in education.
Lance Hill, Ph.D.
Southern Institute for Education and Research