Carol Anderson, professor of African American Studies at Emory University, discussed her new book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy as part of the Lowell Humanities Series on September 30. This discussion is coming at a very timely moment in history as election legitimacy and voter suppression are at the forefront of this year's 2020 Presidential Election. The talk was sponsored by the Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics and the History Department at Boston College.
Anderson has written a number of books outlining racial struggle in the United States, including her best-seller, White Rage. Her newest book addresses the rollback of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 by the Supreme Court, which has since allowed nearly half of all states to enact new voting legislation without receiving federal pre-clearance, which had been required under the Voting Rights Act for certain states before the ruling.
“Voter suppression is often considered in terms of violence,” she began. She noted the plight of Maceo Snipes, a WWII veteran who voted in 1946. He was the only Black person to do so in Taylor County, Georgia. Nothing happened for a few days after he cast his ballot. That was until he was shot in his home by four white men who knocked on his front door.
Carol Anderson then posited that lynchings like that of Maceo Snipes were the old means of voter suppression in the Jim Crow South. That way has since been largely replaced by what Anderson calls "bureaucratic violence."
“Bureaucratic violence is policies that look legit, legal, and cast in the right terms, but they are absolutely illegitimate,” Anderson explained.
Policies that aimed to target certain groups of Americans from voting still had to be in alignment with the 15th Amendment, which states that the right of citizens to vote cannot be denied on the account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Therefore, legislators found new ways to restrict access to voting. Some of these examples include poll taxes and literacy tests aimed at preventing the poor and uneducated from voting — specifically targeting Black communities.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was spearheaded by the Civil Rights Movement, targeted these types of incendiary policies. It required federal pre-clearance of any laws pertaining to the right to vote by either the Department of Justice or the federal courts of D.C.
“Voting registration for Black voters in Mississippi, for example, went from five percent to sixty percent following the Voting Rights Act,” Anderson stated.
The 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision by the Supreme Court rolled back these requirements for states.
“Series of states were primed to implement voter suppression policies that again used societally imposed conditions to target the ‘Obama Coalition’ [term Anderson used for the portion of Americans that voted for the Obama administration],” she explained.
The new age of voter laws that inhibit democracy has come in the form of voter ID laws, like the one Texas implemented following the ruling. This law requires a photo ID in order to vote. However, it restricted the types of IDs that were acceptable, such as rejecting student IDs yet allowing gun registration IDs.
“Defining which types of IDs allows you to begin to shape the electorate,” Anderson explained.
Coupled with new voter ID laws, one-third of Texas counties do not have a DMV office. Therefore, for many Texans who wanted to get their license, they were going to have to make a 250-mile journey without a driver's license or adequate public transportation. Upon inspection, it becomes clear that the voter ID law disproportionately affected Black and Latino communities.
She noted other examples, like the widespread closure of DMVs in majority-Black neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. More examples include Ohio’s one county, one ballot drop box rule, which creates long lines in larger counties and thus discourages voters. Florida presents one of the most egregious examples of disenfranchisement: a lower court ruled that citizens with felony records could not register to vote if they failed to pay off old court fees and fines—in essence, a modern-day poll tax.
With the 2020 election looming, a question was raised by one of the Zoom audience members on how we can prevent voter suppression from happening at the polls leading up to November 3rd.
“We have a long, nasty history of poll watchers in this country intimidating voters. Be informed and aware of your rights. People who work at the polls need to know that voter intimidation is illegal and get the authorities involved if they see it,” Anderson responded.
“Creating confusion is designed to depress voter turnout,” she continued.
To conclude the talk, Anderson told the listeners to register to vote and turn out, find out where polls are and to tell friends and family, and to aid in the grassroots organization of information. In order to best combat the rise in rhetoric that questions the legitimacy of mail-in voting, there must be massive voter turnout.
“Elect folks that believe in democracy,” Anderson concluded.