A tea party congressman suggested, while running for office, that only property owners should vote—and he got a big round of applause for the line.
"I’ve had some radical ideas about voting and it’s probably not a good time to tell them,” said Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, at a 2012 campaign event in Ocala, Fla. “But you used to have to be a property owner to vote.”
Yoho’s audience responded with hearty applause. The comments were posted online Tuesday by the blog Right Wing Watch. Yoho won his race and is now Congress.
“The congressman was making a reference to how voting was structured when America was in its infancy (from a historical perspective). He does not believe that this is the way it should be now,” Brian Kaveney, a spokesman for Yoho, said via email.
In his remarks, Yoho also called voting a “privilege” and suggested that voting should be inconvenient. And Yoho agreed with a man who said early voting offers "the ability to ruin an election," adding, “The ability to vote, but vote uninformed, is as tragic or as dangerous as having a loaded gun and not knowing how to use it.”
Watch Yoho's comments:
Yoho's comments on voting are firmly within the tradition of conservative thinking on the franchise, which sees it less as a right and more as a tool to make an informed decision about government.
Versions of that notion were used to justify restricting the vote to property owners in the republic’s early days, as well as later voting restrictions like literacy requirements. Even in the 21st century, Yoho is far from alone among prominent conservatives in suggesting that voting should be made more difficult in order to produce a better-informed electorate.
Indeed, Republicans opposed a recent recommendation, from a bipartisan presidential panel, to expand early voting. Many argued, like Yoho, that early voting produces less informed voters.
Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released a statement slamming Yoho's comments.
"Ted Yoho’s comments aren’t just from a different decade, they harken back to another century when Americans were denied their basic rights as citizens. Yoho’s view is abhorrent and immoral and should be roundly condemned in the strongest possible terms," she said.
She added, "As Americans, we should all be focused on continuing our long and proud history of expanding access to the polls and encouraging more participation. That’s a core belief that Democrats hold, not just because it’s good for our party, but because it’s good for our country."