By SALVATORE COLLELUORI/Media Matters
Iowa radio host Jan Mickelson, the state's self-appointed vetter of GOP presidential candidates, recently told members of the League of Women Voters that it should be harder for people to vote, suggesting it be limited to state property owners or people who pass a civics test -- both of which were used to disenfranchise black voters and others in colonial America and the Jim Crow era.
On the June 4 broadcast of Mickelson in the Morning, Mickelson hosted two representatives of the League of Women Voters. During the discussion, Mickelson declared that unlike his guests, whose group works to register more Americans to vote, he is in "the voter repression business" and doesn't want people to vote "unless they agree" with him. He also suggested that in order to vote, Americans should have to pass a "civics test" to prove they're smart enough.
Later in the show, in response to a caller's comment about who should be eligible to vote on property tax ballot issues, Mickelson suggested that only people who pay property taxes -- i.e., property owners -- should be allowed to do so, which would effectively exclude local citizens who are students or renters.
Mickelson's suggestions are a stunning endorsement of disfavored economic restrictions on the right to vote that are now presumptively unconstitutional. Owning property was a prerequisite for white males to vote in colonial America, but eventually gave way to a law requiring voters to be taxpayers. However, by the 1850's, even the tax-paying requirement was phased out in most states. Despite passage of the 15th Amendment, which sought to eliminate that litmus test, some groups, including women and African-Americans, were still denied the vote.
The Jim Crow-era literacy test, which Mickelson has renamed a "civics test" requirement, was even more pernicious. As a PBS special on Jim Crow noted, literacy tests were often "used to keep people of color -- and, sometimes, poor whites -- from voting" and whether someone passed was up to "the discretion of the officials in charge of voter registration," meaning those whom officials wanted to pass did, while others were set up to fail.
Mickelson, who has a national reputation as a GOP kingmaker in Iowa, has a history of pushing presidential candidates to embrace his extreme views. Already this year, he has hosted every major GOP presidential candidate -- except Jeb Bush, who has yet to declare but is expected to, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina -- at least once, and Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee several times.