Following news reports, it is well known that the Republican Party has attempted to restrict the votes of those they deemed unlikely to vote for Republican candidates: minorities and the poor. Many of their tactics are also well known, including new requirements for voter ID while at the same time closing many licensing offices in minority neighborhoods, making the now-necessary ID extremely difficult for some to obtain. Also, many voting precincts in low-income neighborhoods were closed, causing extensive wait times for poor and minority voters. There was also a reduction of early-voting days. The gerrymandering of voting districts to reconfigure voting boundaries to ensure Republican control has been well reported. This news is all around us, but a lot of us do not know the extensive history of voter suppression in the United States, especially in the South. Carol Anderson lays this out in her book, “One Person, No Vote.” It is shocking and disturbing.
Whereas in the past it was commonly Democrats in the South who were engaging in voter suppression, today it is Republicans doing the same under the guise of false pretenses, such as preventing nonexistent voter fraud. They are implementing multiple tactics to attack socioeconomic characteristics they deem unlikely to support Republicans, such as poverty, lack of mobility, illiteracy, etc. They then label these new voting rules with misleading, racially neutral names and act shocked and appalled when called out for their true purpose. Purging likely Democrats from voting roles in large numbers has become a key Republican strategy for winning. Sadly, these tactics are working: Minority votes are being suppressed around the country, as shown in recent elections. The 2016 election saw a remarkable drop in Black voter turnout due to suppression.
These types of tactics to keep Black people out of the voting booth are actually more than 100 years old, with their roots in the Deep South. In 1890, the Mississippi Plan was enacted, implementing poll taxes, literacy tests, understanding rules, new voter registration rules and “good character” clauses, all in theory to bring integrity to voting booths. These tactics spread throughout the South. The Poll Tax was cumulative year-over-year, and in today’s dollars easily reached required payment of hundreds of dollars to be able to vote. Easy literacy and understanding tests were given to Whites, then ridiculously hard and subjective tests were given to Blacks, allowing the tester to fail 100 percent of Black voter applicants. All-White primaries were introduced, since federal voting laws only applied to general elections, effectively eliminating the chance of any minority candidates on the ballot.
White intimidation and violence against Blacks attempting to vote was common, including lynching. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was finally passed, significantly reducing these shenanigans and increasing minority voter turnout. But the legislation was largely gutted in 2013 by our right-leaning Supreme Court. Now, again, we are seeing a rash of tactics aimed at suppression of minority voters.
Reading about this history causes shock and anger. How could this be allowed? But our history has many shocking examples of racism and hatred. For me, the bigger question is how can similar laws and rules be allowed today? Republicans clearly understand demographic trends and realize that blocking certain groups from voting is a key tactic toward them keeping power even when in the minority. Now, the Republican-majority Supreme Court backs Republican efforts to restrict voter turnout. As described by Anderson, Republicans clearly believe their future success depends on suppressing votes, not increasing voter turnout. It’s frustrating, and scary. And it’s working.
Voter suppression now exists in approximately two-thirds of states. It often begins with false information, wildly spread by conservative voices such as Fox News, claiming that voter fraud is rampant when actually it’s extremely rare — studies show fraudulent votes at one in millions. These lies are just repeated until they become “common” knowledge. These suppression efforts are not slowing down. Rather, more and more clever tactics are being employed. Given Trump’s willingness to falsely claim millions of illegal votes are going to Democrats, and much of America being willing to (and wanting to) believe this nonsense, this trend is only likely to get worse. Trump has shown extensive willingness to support voter restriction.
Anderson closes her book with a summary of resistance to these efforts. Multiple groups are fighting back. Efforts include getting the word out to local voters as to what roadblocks exist and how to navigate them. Person-to-person contact works best, but is also the most time and effort consuming. All these efforts are expensive. Even with extensive efforts, fighting back has been difficult and resulted in only limited success. Currently, more than 77 million Americans are not on voter rolls, and minorities are highly impacted.
Anderson states, “In short, we are in trouble.” Thirty-one states are now actively attempting to craft more effective ways to restrict voting to their preferred constituents.
Anderson provides extensive descriptions and details of the history of suppression, as well as ongoing and new suppression efforts. This is not a long book, yet it contains extensive stories and data capturing our history and what we are up against today.
It’s an upsetting — but necessary — read.
Pick it up: “One Person, No Vote.” The title is accurate.
Read the full October 9 - 15 issue.
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