After a turbulent election season, fueled by unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud, Republican lawmakers are scrambling to rewrite election laws to restrict access to the polls. Although House Democrats passed a voting rights bill on Wednesday that would make voting more accessible, critics worry about GOP tactics that could suppress the vote in a way reminiscent of reconstruction .
“On the one hand, you are concerned about fraud that results in voting restrictions, and on the other hand, you are worried about the turnout which encourages focus on better access to the ballot box,” said Rebecca Green. , Professor of Law and Co-Director of William and the Election Law Program at Mary Law School.
Since the start of the year, Republican-controlled legislatures have introduced a cascade of restrictive voting measures:
• An Arizona Republican lawmaker introduced a bill on February 2 that would require everyone to vote in physically fit person and dramatically reduce the number of voting centers in some counties.
• A New Hampshire bill introduced on Jan. 18 would allow election officials to remove voters from the lists based on data provided by other states, a practice ruled by federal courts to violate the National Voter Registration Act.
• A Mississippi bill would purge voters from the lists if they did not respond to a notice within 30 days with proof of citizenship.
• In Georgia, a longtime Republican stronghold that turned blue in the November presidential election, House officials on Monday approved a sweeping measure that would restrict the use of ballot boxes, make identity requirements for voting tighter absentees and would ban the distribution of food and water to people waiting in line to vote.
The bill, which heads to the state Senate, aims to limit early voting on weekends, which would stifle “Souls to the Polls,” a widespread electoral mobilization campaign among black churches in the United States. State.
State Representative Barry Fleming, who sponsored the bill, said his aim was to ensure that someone’s vote could not be stolen. “It is our duty of care in this legislature to constantly update our laws to try to protect the sanctity of the vote,” the Republican said at a meeting on electoral integrity last month.
Critics say the barrage of legislation dates back to the post-Reconstruction era when white lawmakers, threatened by a change in political power, attempted to block black voting with new laws designed to restrict access to the ballot box. .
“When you have a huge turnout, like we did in this last election, the question is how do you get rid of that turnout,” said Marion Orr, professor of public policy at Brown University.
The language of these new election laws does not overtly target a specific group of people, but the implications of these laws disproportionately impact people of color, Orr said.
Elimination of voters after reconstruction
After the Civil War, black men emerged from shackles and slavery with unprecedented political freedom.
The passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, which gave black men the right to vote, ushered in a wave of black politicians. Over the next two decades, approximately 20 black men served in the United States Congress – all in the Southern States.
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This foray into national politics came at a high price. White supremacist groups responded with violence and intimidation to prevent black people from participating in the polls.
This new political participation and activism sparked a series of laws that deprived African Americans of the ability to vote for decades to come. “They saw all these black politicians and moved quickly to suppress this new electoral force,” Orr said.
During his opening address at the Mississippi State Convention of 1890, where restrictions on black suffrage were first discussed, President Solomon S. Calhoun made no bones about the purpose of the gathering.
“We came here to exclude the nigger,” he said. “Nothing less than that will answer.”
Mississippi passed laws that required a voting tax and mandatory literacy tests. The state’s voter suppression strategy has become the guide for other southern states. Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and others have followed suit.
Several states instituted a grandfather clause as a loophole for white males who could not afford the tax vote or pass a literacy test. Under this clause, men whose fathers or grandfathers could vote before the Civil War were exempt from the stricter voting requirements. These new voting requirements have made it nearly impossible to elect black lawmakers, even in southern states with dense African American populations.
George White of North Carolina, the last black congressman of that time, saw the writing on the wall before stepping down in 1901.
“This, Mr. President, may be the temporary farewell of the Negroes in the United States Congress, but let me say, like a phoenix it will one day rise and return,” White said in his final months. in Congress. “These farewell words are in the name of an indignant, broken, bruised and bleeding, but God-fearing, faithful, industrious and loyal people – people on the rise, full of potential strength.”
After White left, it took almost 30 years before another black congressman entered the United States Capitol. And 70 years before the election of a black congressman from a southern state.
These new laws virtually eradicated the black politician, disenfranchised black citizens, and demanded a federal election law in 1965 to combat rampant racism and voter suppression.
The Voting Rights Act 1965 banned literacy tests and provided federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50% of non-whites were registered to vote. The attack on protesters for the right to vote marching on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965, was a factor in the passage of the law.
Election experts say a 2013 Supreme Court ruling Shelby County v. Holder, gutted the law by freeing states and municipalities with a history of racial discrimination from the obligation to seek federal approval to change their election laws.
The backlash from this Supreme Court ruling was immediate and predictable, said Bobby Hoffman, deputy director of the democracy division of the American Civil Liberties Union.
States quickly tightened voter identification requirements, reduced early voting, purged voters from voting lists, and closed hundreds of polling stations.
Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas have introduced more stringent voter identification requirements. Florida and Virginia have attempted to purge thousands of people from their electoral rolls.
A few hours after the Shelby v. Holder, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, then state attorney general, announced tougher voting requirements.
“With today’s ruling, the state’s voter identity law will come into effect immediately,” Abbott said in a statement. “Redistribution maps passed by the Legislature can also come into effect without federal government approval.”
Abbott’s actions and the wave of voting bills worry lawmakers such as Congressman Colin Allred, D-Texas, member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I think what we are seeing is the most serious attempt across the country to restrict the voting rights of some Americans since the days of Jim Crow,” Allred said.
Contact Javonte Anderson at [email protected] Twitter: @JavonteA