Plots to suppress the African American vote date back to the Reconstruction Era. Prior to the Voter Rights Act of 1965, these were some of the more commonly used tactics by conservatives who wanted to keep blacks from voting.
SEE ALSO: Why Newt Scares Me
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)
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 Pildes went 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.
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.
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).
Today’s tactics are a drastically different, more sophisticated but no less obvious.
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 coordinated 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. Click on the links to learn how not to be swindled by the GOP disenfranchisement machine.