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Opinion |  If it’s not Jim Crow, what is it?


Other southern states have enacted changes such as voter registration, which have had a stark and negative effect on voter turnout, made worse by the discretion given to registrars.

Here is Kousser:

Under the North Carolina law of 1889, for example, clerks, appointed indirectly by the Democratic legislature, could require a voter to prove “as close as possible” to their “age, occupation, place of birth and place of residence. … By testimony, under oath, to the satisfaction of the clerk. “

Democrats, he notes, “used this law to deny the vote to white and black Republicans and populists in the early 1890s.” Louisiana lawmakers passed a registration law in 1896. That year, 95.6 percent of black adult males were on the electoral roll. Two years later, when voters had to re-register, 9.5% of blacks were on the list.

In addition to the registration requirements, there were the now infamous literacy tests. In Virginia, a potential voter had to read a section of the state or federal constitution – and persuade the clerk that he understood the words – to qualify to vote. Mississippi’s similar requirement was accompanied by an “understanding clause” that allowed a potential voter to vote only if he could understand the text read to him.

A recently published article by political scientists Luke Keele, William Cubbison and Ismail White on the use of the understanding clause in Louisiana in the 1950s highlights the impact of voting laws that rely on discretion for their effect. “These results highlight that voting restrictions that give local authorities greater authority to deny the right to vote may be particularly susceptible to discriminatory results,” they note.

To complement these legal restrictions on the right to vote, there were election taxes. On their own, they may not have had the decisive impact critics of the day attributed to them, but in conjunction with other measures, they worked to deter many southerners, black and white. , even trying to vote. “While the $ 1 to $ 2 levies did not seem high for middle class delegates and lawmakers to Congress,” Kousser writes, “they were a heavy burden for many people in the economic region of the country.

To the extent that Southern lawmakers were often explicit about their intentions and goals (“Discrimination!” Said Carter Glass, who, as a state senator, was instrumental in shaping the Virginia Constitution from 1901. Why this convention was elected. ”), They also knew they had to mask these laws and provisions in the language of neutrality. The authors of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 even added an addendum to this effect:

All the provisions of the Mississippi Constitution apply equally, and without any discrimination, to white and black races. Any assumption, therefore, that the purpose of the drafters of the Constitution was shameful and dishonest, is gratuitous and cannot be sustained.

One of Kousser’s conclusions is that Jim Crow’s voting restrictions were as much about partisanship as race, with Southern Democrats targeting both groups outside of plantation-dominated areas, low-income blacks and whites, who fueled their republican and populist opposition.

This brings us back to Georgian law. To the extent that he plays neutrality while imposing a burden on specific groups of voters on a partisan (and inevitably racial) basis, he is, at least, adjacent to Jim Crow. And as my Times colleagues Nick Corasaniti and Reid Epstein wrote last week, there are key provisions that match this bill.



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