Voter Suppression In America Belies The Very Concept Of Democracy

In 15 days America goes to the polls to choose a new Congress. At stake are Governor-ships and elect­ed offices down the line to dog-catch­er.
The num­ber one issue fac­ing African-Americans, Native ‑Americans and oth­er peo­ple of col­or today dur­ing this cru­cial time are the road­blocks to vot­ing placed in their way by Republicans.

Stacey Abrams

The Supreme Court in 2013 struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act. A 2016 report from the civ­il rights coali­tion Leadership Conference on CHR found local offi­cials had shut­tered 868 polling places in the 3 years after the rul­ing.
Since the rul­ing, a flood­gate of vot­er sup­pres­sion activ­i­ty has been unleashed almost sole­ly in states and munic­i­pal­i­ties with large African-American, Native ‑American and Latino com­mu­ni­ties.

Brian Kemp

In Georgia, the sit­ting sec­re­tary of state Brian Kemp is on the bal­lot as the GOP can­di­date for gov­er­nor against the Democrats Stacy Abrams a black woman who would become the nation’s first black female gov­er­nor.
That prospect may have to wait as Hillary Clinton found out, get­ting more than three mil­lion votes than your oppo­nent does not mean you have won.

In his role as ref­er­ee, and as Candidate, Brian Kemp has report­ed­ly purged more almost a mil­lion peo­ple from the state’s vot­ing rolls.
This purge for sim­ple things like infre­quent vot­ing, and what is called “exact match a law Kemp and his Republican friends cre­at­ed demands gives them the right to remove or at least pre­vent peo­ple from vot­ing for a sim­ple miss­ing hyphen in a name, or a mis­spelled name.

The most basic right of a cit­i­zen in a democ­ra­cy is the right to vote. Without this right, peo­ple can be eas­i­ly ignored and even abused by their gov­ern­ment. This, in fact, is what hap­pened to African-American cit­i­zens liv­ing in the South fol­low­ing Civil War Reconstruction. Despite the 14th and 15th Amendments guar­an­tee­ing the civ­il rights of black Americans, their right to vote was sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly tak­en away by white suprema­cist state gov­ern­ments.
So said: http://​www​.crf​-usa​.org

African-Americans have always faced hur­dles when try­ing to vote, this nation has a sor­did lega­cy of oppres­sion and sup­pres­sion.

In 1890, Mississippi held a con­ven­tion to write a new state con­sti­tu­tion to replace the one in force since Reconstruction. The white lead­ers of the con­ven­tion were clear about their inten­tions. “We came here to exclude the Negro,” declared the con­ven­tion pres­i­dent. Because of the 15th Amendment, they could not ban blacks from vot­ing. Instead, they wrote into the state con­sti­tu­tion a num­ber of vot­er restric­tions mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for most blacks to reg­is­ter to vote.

The imped­i­ments placed in the way of blacks are lurid and dis­grace­ful. Doctoral the­ses are writ­ten on the details of those tac­tics from being required to guess the num­ber of jel­ly-beans in a jar to vio­lence.


In 1873, a gang of whites in Colfax, Louisiana mur­dered more than 100 blacks who were assem­bled to defend Republican office­hold­ers — this was, of course, back when Republicans had some sense. Federal pros­e­cu­tors indict­ed three of them, but the U.S. Supreme Court dis­missed the indict­ments in U.S. v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875)
The Geography Of Race In The U.S.

Literacy Tests

Perhaps the first lit­er­a­cy test aimed at keep­ing blacks away from the bal­lot box was South Carolina’s noto­ri­ous “eight-box” bal­lot, adopt­ed in 1882. The test, as explained in “The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South” by J. Morgan Kousser and “The Law of Democracy,” by Samual Issacharoff, Pamela Karlan and Richard Pildeswent as fol­lows:

Voters had to put bal­lots for sep­a­rate offices in sep­a­rate box­es. A bal­lot for the governor’s race put in the box for the sen­ate seat would be thrown out. The order of the box­es was con­tin­u­ous­ly shuf­fled, so that lit­er­ate peo­ple could not assist illit­er­ate vot­ers by arrang­ing their bal­lots in the prop­er order. The adop­tion of the secret bal­lot con­sti­tut­ed anoth­er implic­it lit­er­a­cy test, since it pro­hib­it­ed any­one from assist­ing an illit­er­ate vot­er in cast­ing his vote. In 1890, Southern states began to adopt explic­it lit­er­a­cy tests to dis­en­fran­chise vot­ers. This had a large dif­fer­en­tial racial impact, since 40 – 60% of blacks were illit­er­ate, com­pared to 8 – 18% of whites. Poor, illit­er­ate whites opposed the tests, real­iz­ing that they too would be dis­en­fran­chised.
 The Geography Of Race In The U.S.

Poll Taxes

If you didn’t have mon­ey, you didn’t have a vote:

Georgia ini­ti­at­ed the poll tax in 1871, and made it cumu­la­tive in 1877 (requir­ing cit­i­zens to pay all back tax­es before being per­mit­ted to vote). Every for­mer Confederate state fol­lowed its lead by 1904. Although these tax­es of $1-$2 per year may seem small, it was beyond the reach of many poor black and white share­crop­pers, who rarely dealt in cash. The Georgia poll tax prob­a­bly reduced over­all turnout by 16 – 28%, and black turnout in half (Kousser, The Shaping of Southern Politics, 67 – 8). The pur­pose of the tax was plain­ly to dis­en­fran­chise, not to col­lect rev­enue, since no state brought pros­e­cu­tions against any indi­vid­ual for fail­ure to pay the tax.

Source: The Geography Of Race In The U.S.

Sources: Voting Rights: The Poll Tax, Marion Butts Collection, Dallas Public Library and The Geography Of Race In The U.S.

Ridiculous Registration Practices

Even if blacks could read or had mon­ey, racist reg­is­tra­tion prac­tices were cre­at­ed to make their efforts to vote mis­er­able:
Southern states made reg­is­tra­tion dif­fi­cult, by requir­ing fre­quent re-reg­is­tra­tion, long terms of res­i­dence in a dis­trict, reg­is­tra­tion at incon­ve­nient times (e.g., plant­i­ng sea­son), pro­vi­sion of infor­ma­tion unavail­able to many blacks (e.g. street address­es, when black neigh­bor­hoods lacked street names and num­bers), and so forth. When blacks man­aged to qual­i­fy for the vote even under these mea­sures, reg­is­trars would use their dis­cre­tion to deny them the vote any­way. Alabama’s con­sti­tu­tion of 1901 was explic­it­ly designed to dis­en­fran­chise blacks by such restric­tive and fraud­u­lent means. Despite this, Jackson Giles, a black jan­i­tor, qual­i­fied for the vote under Alabama’s con­sti­tu­tion. He brought suit against Alabama on behalf of him­self and 75,000 sim­i­lar­ly qual­i­fied blacks who had been arbi­trar­i­ly denied the right to reg­is­ter. The Supreme Court reject­ed his claim in Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475 (1903).

Source: The Geography Of Race In The U.S.
Today’s tac­tics are a dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent, more sophis­ti­cat­ed but no less obvi­ous.

Voter ID

Some states, like Wisconsin for exam­ple, are try­ing to pass laws that are requir­ing peo­ple to present birth cer­tifi­cates to cer­ti­fy their eli­gi­bil­i­ty to vote when they nev­er had to before. Take, for exam­ple, how this will hurt one senior cit­i­zen as report­ed by the Center for American Progress Action Fund:
For 63 years, Brokaw, Wisconsin native Ruthelle Frank went to the polls to vote. Though par­a­lyzed on her left side since birth, the 84-year-old “fiery woman” vot­ed in every elec­tion since 1948 and even got elect­ed her­self as a mem­ber of the Brokaw Village Board. But because of the state’s new vot­er ID law, 2012 will be the first year Frank can’t vote. Born after a dif­fi­cult birth at her home in 1927, Frank nev­er received an offi­cial birth cer­tifi­cate. Her moth­er record­ed it in her fam­i­ly Bible and Frank has a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of bap­tism from a few months lat­er, along with a Social Security card, a Medicare state­ment, and a check­book. But with­out the offi­cial doc­u­ment, she can’t secure the state ID card that the new law requires to vote next year.
“It’s real­ly crazy,” she added. “I’ve got all this proof. You mean to tell me that I’m not a U.S. cit­i­zen?” But state offi­cials have informed Frank that, because the state Register of Deeds does have a record of her birth, they can issue her a new birth cer­tifi­cate — for a fee. And because of a spelling error, that fee may be as high as $200:
Though Frank nev­er had a birth cer­tifi­cate, the state Register of Deeds in Madison has a record of her birth. It can gen­er­ate a birth cer­tifi­cate for her — for a fee. Normally, the cost is $20.


Every ten years, coun­ty com­mis­sions, state House and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are redrawn based on pop­u­la­tion changes report­ed in the U.S. Census, the Detroit Free Press reports. The prob­lem with this is that GOP lead­ers see pop­u­la­tion growth in black and Latino com­mu­ni­ties that vote heav­i­ly for Democrats and want to spit these Democratic vot­ing bases. Take the state of Michigan for exam­ple, as report­ed by the Detroit Free Press:
Several groups rep­re­sent­ing African-American and Latino vot­ers have filed a law­suit chal­leng­ing the new maps that define the 110 dis­tricts for the state House of Representatives.

The state Legislative Black Caucus, the NAACP, UAW and the Latino Americans for Social and Economic Development, along with sev­er­al indi­vid­u­als filed suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit today. They’re ask­ing for a tem­po­rary restrain­ing order, halt­ing the new dis­tricts from tak­ing effect while a new map is drawn and approved.
“This is a coör­di­nat­ed assault on our vot­ing rights,” said Wendell Anthony, pres­i­dent of the NAACP Detroit branch.
The groups have two main com­plaints: the new map will force eight Detroit incum­bent leg­is­la­tors to run against each oth­er; and a dis­trict that now encom­pass­es most of the pri­mar­i­ly Latino pop­u­la­tion in south­west Detroit has been split into two dis­tricts.
The game is the same, but the tac­tics have changed.

As you con­tem­plate these points and try to make sense of it all, be remind­ed, how­ev­er, that the faith you may have had in the Supreme court may be unfound­ed or mis­placed. Much of what has tran­spired through­out America’s his­to­ry has hap­pened with the acqui­es­cence of the Supreme Court.
Much of the assault being waged on vot­ing rights by Republicans this cycle, is made pos­si­ble because the Supreme Court evis­cer­at­ed the vot­ing rights act. 
For no rea­son oth­er than it worked well.
In her dis­sent in Shelby County Vs Holder, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued, the court’s deci­sion is tan­ta­mount to throw­ing away one’s umbrel­la in a rain­storm because he isn’t get­ting wet.
Such was the absur­di­ty and bla­tant naked par­ti­san­ship by the Robert’s court.
That Justice Ginsberg’s dis­sent stands as a scathing reminder of what Republicans are doing to Democracy in America.