By Emily Erickson
Recently, several bills have been making headlines across the country and in Idaho. Their wording seems to have a way of skirting around each bill’s purpose, encapsulating their intent in benign phrases and ambiguous messaging. But, sometimes, some things are better when they’re put plainly — peeling back the layers of semantics to expose the raw reality within.
One such piece of legislation is Senate Bill 202, which Georgia lawmakers recently approved as The Election Integrity Act of 2021. The bill’s directive is to comprehensively revise elections and voting within Georgia in a supposed attempt to bolster election confidence among constituents. Its contents described revisions like reducing the number of usable drop boxes for absentee ballots and imposing more stringent voter identification requirements — like needing a state-issued ID to request or return a ballot. It restricts who can vote with provisional ballots and, most notably, makes it a misdemeanor to give away food or water within 150 feet of the outer edge of a polling place building or within 25 feet of any voter standing in line waiting to cast their ballot.
When peeling back the language, however, this legislation is clearly geared toward restricting who can vote and how easily they can cast their ballots. With efforts like withholding sustenance from people required to stand in historically long, brutal voter lines, and reducing the availability of absentee voting, the amount of people likely to turn out to vote is diminished. Put even more plainly, if candidates have to suppress voters to earn their seats, we should stop calling this whole thing a democracy.
Another bill, designated as RS 228, was pushed through the Idaho House and Senate and is pending passage until legislators reconvene on April 6.
RS 228 aims to prohibit Idaho public schools from teaching racist or sexist concepts in their classrooms. Specifically, schools would be barred from teaching: “One race [or] sex is superior to another; An individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive because of their race or sex, ‘whether consciously or unconsciously’; An individual bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by individuals of the same sex or race past by members of the same race or sex; Merit-based systems are racist or sexist; and Idaho or the United States are ‘fundamentally racist or sexist.’”
The bill further stipulates, “Any school that teaches these topics to students will have its funds withheld by the Board of Education.”
When you break down the kinds of lessons this bill is challenging, the repercussions become clear. If we do not hold space for nuanced education about oppression, or talk to students about our current role (unconscious or otherwise) in upholding the systems we’ve built on top of exploitation, we cannot accurately teach them about racism or sexism at all. Concepts like privilege, bias and reparations will become taboo, reducing the scope of what students can learn to half-truths and convenient partial histories. In this limited education, without accurate depictions of our complicated past, there’s nothing standing in the way of us making the same mistakes again.
Finally, SB 1110 is an Idaho Bill aimed at restricting citizen-led ballot initiatives and referendums. SB 1110 would increase the number of signatures required to qualify an initiative as ballot-worthy from 6% of eligible voters of 18 districts to 6% of all 35 districts.
This bill was proposed, despite very few initiatives making the ballot since the 18-district requirement was established in 2013. Luke Mayville in the March 20 Reclaim Idaho newsletter explained, “In the eight years since [the 2013 bill was passed], 15 initiatives have been attempted and only two made the ballot. Thirteen of 15 attempts were blocked under the current rules.”
More simply, SB 1110 is an effort to make the path to citizen-led initiatives more difficult, consequently reducing the public’s ability to participate in our own government.
As a lover of words and a believer in the potential they have to do good, I also recognize their ability to be manipulated; to say one thing while really meaning another. And it’s in these semantics that intentions can get lost, causing widespread repercussions that are difficult to reverse.
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