January 2019, Week 1


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 		 [It didn’t start with Donald Trump.] [https://portside.org/] 

THE BALLOT   [https://portside.org/node/19065] 


 Pema Levy 
 January 3, 2019
Mother Jones

	* [https://portside.org/node/19065/printable/print]

 _ It didn’t start with Donald Trump. _ 

 , Rui Vieira/PA Wire/AP Images 


It seemed inevitable after evidence of voting irregularities appeared
in the contested race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional
District: Republicans used the problems to push for tighter voting
[https://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/article222656870.html] last
month. Voting restrictions in the name of fraud prevention have been
at the forefront of Donald Trump’s presidency ever since
he claimed in the wake of his election that millions of fraudulent
votes had been cast against him and he created a commission to
investigate voter fraud. (Never mind that the commission failed to
document any evidence of widespread fraud, or that North Carolina’s
issues appeared to stem from impropriety on the part of the Republican
candidate’s campaign, not voters.)

But raising fears of fraud in order to make it harder for
people—particularly people fitting certain demographic profiles—to
vote didn’t start with this administration, or even in the past 100
out in his 2000 book, _The Right to Vote: The Contested History of
Democracy in the United States_
[https://www.amazon.com/Right-Vote-Contested-History-Democracy/dp/0465005020], the
tactic dates back to the early decades of the 19th
century. Throughout US history, politicians and activists ginned up
stories about fraud in order to keep their opponents from the polls.
“Legislative debates were sprinkled heavily with tales of ballot box
stuffing, miscounts, hordes of immigrants lined up to vote as the
machine instructed, men trooping from precinct to precinct to vote
early and often,” he writes. 

The most pervasive fraud that was actually occurring in the late 19th
century was in the South, where African Americans were denied the
right to vote through vigilante violence and ballot manipulation.
“We are a majority here,” a black man from Georgia testified to
the Senate in 1883, “but you may vote till your eyes drop out or
your tongue drops out, and you can’t count your colored man in out
of them boxes; there’s a hole gets in the bottom of the boxes some
way and lets out our votes.” The unfolding scandal in North
Carolina, where it appears African American voters were the victims,
“certainly fits with the long tradition with trying to suppress the
black vote in the South,” Keyssar tells _Mother Jones_. 

In the late 19th century, white Southerners began to realize that the
easiest way to disenfranchise African Americans was through legal
means like poll taxes and literacy tests. Meanwhile, fear of
widespread voter fraud prompted restrictions on voting around the
country, often employed to hinder immigrants, minorities, and poor
and working-class voters. Here’s an incomplete timeline of using
the specter of fraud to deny people the vote:

1836: Pennsylvania passed its first voter registration law. The law
applied only to Philadelphia, where it required assessors to go
door-to-door to compile a list of eligible voters. To cast a ballot, a
voter had to be on the list. “Although the proclaimed goal of the
law was to reduce fraud, opponents insisted that its real intent was
to reduce the participation of the poor—who were frequently not home
when the assessors came by and did not have ‘big brass’ nameplates
on their doors,” Keyssar writes.

1866: California passed a restrictive registration requirement aimed
at quelling fears about voter fraud committed by immigrants. Democrats
considered it “an act of hostility to the Democratic party.” To
register, naturalized citizens had to present to the county clerk
their “original, court-sealed naturalization papers,” Keyssar
explains. “In the absence of such papers, an immigrant’s
eligibility could be established only through the testimony of two
‘householders and legal voters’ and by residence in the state for
a full year, double the normal requirement.” The deadline to
register was three months before the general election. 

1866-1867: New Jersey Republicans erected a series of hurdles under
the pretense of fighting fraud. Everyone who wished to cast a ballot
had to register in person the Thursday before each general election;
anyone could challenge the credentials of a would-be registrant; and
anyone not on the list on Election Day could not vote. Democrats
protested that the laws discriminated against the poor, who couldn’t
take time off work to register. These registration laws varied in the
ensuing decades, with Democrats repealing them when in power and
Republicans reinstating them upon taking control. Republicans also
passed laws to close the polls at sunset, based on the assumption that
illegal votes would be cast after dark. Democrats countered that these
“sunset laws” blocked workers from voting.

EARLY 1880S: Chicago’s elite, losing power to Democratic
politicians, began to advocate reforms to “preserve the purity of
the ballot box,” including a burdensome registration system. At
the same time, they set out to discover evidence of fraud to boost
their reform agenda. They hired investigators to monitor polling
locations and offered a $300 reward to anyone who helped “in the
apprehension and conviction of anyone who voted illegally in Chicago
in 1883.” The allegedly illegal voters the effort produced were
acquitted in court.

1885: Despite a lack of evidence of fraud, Illinois enacted a new
voter registration system drafted by the state’s elites. Under these
reforms, voters in some cities were required to register in person on
the third or fourth Tuesday before a general election. Election
clerks, accompanied by the police, would then conduct a house-by-house
canvass of every would-be voter and create a “suspect list” of
anyone potentially registered improperly. Anyone on this suspect list
would not be eligible to vote unless he appeared on the Tuesday two
weeks prior to a general election with convincing evidence of his
eligibility. This entire process would be repeated every four years.
The Chicago elites celebrated that “the foundations for honest
elections were now firmly laid.”

1911: New Jersey, in a Progressive Era effort to squash
corruption, erected major hurdles to voter registration, but only in
cities of more than 5,000 people. Whenever a voter moved or sat out
an election, he had to re-register. Registration was available only
four days per year, and the registration process required a
prospective voter to list his occupation and the names of his spouse,
parents, and landlord, as well as “a satisfactory description of the
dwelling in which he lived,” as Keyssar describes it. Turnout
plummeted, especially among African Americans and immigrants. 

MID-LATE-20TH CENTURY: Voter purges and administrative barriers to
registration persisted, contributing to chronically low turnout
[https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/01/the-supreme-court-is-about-to-hear-a-case-that-could-unleash-a-new-wave-of-voter-purges/] in
the United States compared to other Western democracies. When voting
rights advocates successfully pressed Congress to pass a bill to relax
registration rules in 1992, former President George H.W. Bush vetoed
it, calling the bill “an open invitation to fraud and

2010-PRESENT: Republicans who took control of state governments
across the country after the 2010 elections passed a rash of
restrictive voting laws as anti-fraud measures. These reforms included
voter identification laws, restrictions on early voting, and
requirements that people provide proof of citizenship to
register. They have done little to stamp out in-person voter fraud,
which is virtually nonexistent. But they do impede voters of color,
the poor, the elderly, and young people from casting ballots. A
federal appeals court found in 2016 that North Carolina’s voter ID
requirements “target African Americans with almost surgical
precision.” A federal court in Texas ruled
[https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/04/federal-judge-finds-texas-voter-id-law-purposefully-discriminated-against-minoritie/] in
2017 that the state’s voter ID law, passed under the pretense
[https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/10/us/federal-judge-strikes-down-texas-voter-id-law.html] of
fraud deterrence, purposefully discriminated against African Americans
and Latinos.

_Pema Levy is a reporter at Mother Jones._

_Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew
corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting
journalism we set out to do._

_Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows
us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting
free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother
Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today 
we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2019 demands._


	* [https://portside.org/node/19065/printable/print]







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