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Georgia whites are returning to weed out the “wrong” voters
Illustration from Elizabeth Brockway / The Daily BeastYes, Georgia’s new, highly racist electoral law makes it illegal to bring food or water to people – that is, black voters – who are waiting in long lines that are also the result of voter repression. But attempts are also being made to disenfranchise black voters in much more banal ways, for example to make registration more difficult. This is actually a kind of duplication, twofold approach to the electoral repression effort to keep the “wrong” kind of people out of the polls. Because the history of American voter registration laws, like pretty much everything else in this country, has been marked by racism and nativism. During the colonial and revolutionary times, voting was a right given to whites, men and landowners. As in Britain, this demand was based on the absurd notion that only white men who owned property had a real “stake in society,” which means a real commitment to the welfare of their communities. There was also the question of white Protestant supremacy, as black – emancipated and enslaved – and indigenous people were largely denied the power of voting. Alexander Kessyar, author of The Right to Vote, notes that “Catholics have been disenfranchised in five years [colonies] and Jews in four. “In a letter dated 1776, John Adams advocated this kind of exclusionary policy, suggesting that expanding voting rights would open the floodgates to all kinds of chaos.” It is dangerous to open up such a fertile source of controversy and argument as it would result from attempting to change electoral qualifications, “Adams wrote in the letter.” There will be no end. “The ratification of the 1788 Constitution left the right to vote to individual states and stated in Article I Section 4 that “the times, places, and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives should be prescribed in.” Each state by its legislature; however, Congress can legislate or change these provisions at any time. ”The states in turn largely restricted the right to vote on wealthy whites, so only 6 percent of the country was eligible to vote in the first presidential election GOP Rule: White People Can Shoot, But Blacks Can’t Vote In the early 19th century, Kessyar writes, fears spread across the country that elections would be determined by “foreign-born transients”. The formal system of voter registration was portrayed then as now as a way of protecting the integrity of elections. In 1801, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a voter registration law. By 1832, the first known case of a so-called “electoral adjustment” was alleged by a Boston man named Josiah Capen, who was suing for violating his voting rights. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiff, ruling that the state’s voter registration system was perfectly legal. In the following years, the registration laws would invade the country. Many of them would be ushered in under the influence of the Whigs – the political party ultimately disrupted by slavery, an institution the GOP then spoke out against – which claimed that urban immigrants cast illegal votes and called elections Democrats. Pennsylvania set up a voter registration system in 1936 that sent recruiters door-to-door within the Philadelphia boundaries to gather information from potential voters. Keyssar writes: “Although the stated aim of the law was to reduce fraud, opponents insisted that the real intention was to reduce the participation of the poor – who were often away from home, came over as assessors, and none Had “large brass” nameplates on their doors. “Just a few years later, in 1840,” Whigs managed to pass a registration bill that was unique to New York City and that contained the greatest concentration of Irish voters. “The legislation would be repealed within two years, but the anti-immigrant sentiment would rise keep the pressure on registration. But of course no one has been systematically disenfranchised than blacks. The Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling of 1857 found that American citizenship does not extend to people who “have been imported as slaves, nor to their offspring, whether or not they became free. ”Exclusion from citizenship, of course, meant disqualification from voting. The verdict suggested that this was just as good as blacks were viewed as“ incapable to connect with the white race in social or political relationships. ”Just eight years later, the Loss of the Southern Confederation in the Civil War to emancipate blacks and blacks lead to ratification of the 14th and 15th amendments that enshrine black citizenship and the right to vote in the constitution. Black suffrage, which was immediately attacked by violent white supremacists, would be overturned under Jim Crow – a system heavily adopted by early registration laws. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and residency requirements – all previously embedded in registration systems – were everyday tools created to keep blacks from voting. These laws would last for nearly a century until the 1965 Suffrage Act was finally passed to ensure blacks’ right to vote. “In Mississippi, the number of blacks rose from less than 10 percent in 1964 to nearly 60 percent in 1968; In Alabama, the number rose from 24 to 57 percent, ”Kessymer writes. Across the South, “around a million new voters were registered within a few years of the law going into effect, bringing African-American registration to a record 64 percent.” So white conservatives spent almost every day dismantling the law. They succeeded very well in causing SCOTUS to distort an important provision in 2013. The struggle to counter these efforts and empower black and disenfranchised voters has been largely led by black women. In Georgia, first-term governor Brian Kemp complained bitterly in 2014: “The Democrats work hard and all these stories about them, you know, register all of these minority voters who are out there and others who are on the sidelines when if they can, they can win these elections in November. “In a 2018 competition against Stacey Abrams, the former leader of the Georgian House of Representatives minority leader for the governorship, Kemp oversaw massive electoral cleansing and other racist tricks, including reportedly” 53,000 voter registration requests, “of which 70 percent were submitted by black registrants. “The United States is one of the few industrialized democracies that has adopted the piecemeal, inconsistent state-to-state method of registration – and that requires citizens to get started,” Abrams wrote in the June 2020 essay. “With the administration of the elections left to the individual states, the broken, disjointed process is key to the suppression of voters. Where registration is easier, voters are more likely to participate. Organizers’ efforts to “register all eligible, unregistered colored citizens in Georgia by the end of the decade” have often colored Georgia blue in the elections that helped the president win Joe Biden and Senators Raphael Warnock and John Ossof. What they really did was go home to how white Republicans learned to update old-school racist electoral repression tactics to make them work today. The shamelessly transparent racism of the state’s new electoral law is reflected in a flurry of disenfranchisement proposals pending in state houses across the country – including 47 relating to “voter registration,” 38 being people from the electoral roll would remove, and 24 who deal with in-voter lists early voting. “Oppression in addition to oppression ad infinitum. The For the People Act, which the House passed in early March, would make automatic voter registration the law of the country. If voter registration has to continue as a prerequisite for voting – and while Republicans try to remove blacks from voting – abolishing registration is on the agenda, I know. At least it should be as simple as possible. But it seems worthwhile to keep referring to voter registration for what it is, namely the suppression of voters under a different name. Read more at The Daily Beast. Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves deeper into the stories that matter to you. Learn more.