The Current

Laws to suppress black vote in U.S. are being drafted with 'horrific efficiency,' says author

In her new book, author and academic Carol Anderson explores the history of voter suppression in the U.S., and argues that a resurgence of those tactics affected the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Ruling on Voting Rights Act has allowed 're-assertion of Jim Crow,' says Carol Anderson

In her new book, author Carol Anderson explores the history of voter suppression in the U.S. (Dave Wetty, Cloud Prime Photography/Bloomsbury)

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The election of Barack Obama fed into a rhetoric that has allowed the suppression of black voters in the U.S., according to an African-American Studies scholar. 

"It's part of the narrative that you hear about America: 'How racist can America be? We elected a black man twice, to the presidency,'" said Carol Anderson, chair of African-American Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

In her new book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy, Anderson details how that narrative allowed for new laws and measures that undermine the black vote in some U.S. states.

Anderson joined The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti to discuss the issue. Here is part of their conversation.

Remind us what the narrative was for why minority voters didn't turn out in the numbers in the 2016 election, as they did for Barack Obama?

One of the things that I really saw said repeatedly in the press was that black folks just didn't show up because they really weren't energized by Hillary Clinton.

Hillary was a flawed candidate, Hillary didn't have the ability to mobilize and energize the minority community, Hillary — as everyone knows — is corrupt. Hillary, Hillary, Hillary.

And so, the kind of misogyny that followed Hillary's campaign was there in the postmortem. That the decline of African-American voter turnout was due to Hillary being a flawed candidate, who had so many structural issues, that she just didn't have Barack Obama's magic.

The argument that black voters weren't energized by Hillary Clinton misses the point, Anderson said. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

And why is that narrative wrong?

Oh it is eight-ways-to-Sunday wrong. It is wrong because this was the first election in 50 years, the first presidential election in 50 years, that did not have the protection of the Voting Rights Act.

And without the protection of the Voting Rights Act, states went hog wild. Republican-dominated states figuring out, how do we target African-American voters ... in order to block them from the ballot box. It was a re-assertion of Jim Crow.

Okay, so in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court comes down with a ruling that has huge consequences for the Voting Rights Act. What happened?

It was the Shelby County vs. Holder decision. In that 5-4 decision, John Roberts, the chief justice, wrote a decision that basically said the Voting Rights Act has basically outlived its usefulness. This is no longer the racism of the 1960s, we don't have the racism of of Jim Crow, and that the Voting Rights Act unfairly picked on the south — as if the south hadn't done anything — and that the law was inelastic, it wasn't dynamic enough.

Not since 1964 have the majority of whites who have voted, voted for a Democratic candidate.- Carol Anderson

And of course this happened in 2013, so there's a black president. So this was the argument, "We've got a black man in the White House, there's no problem with blacks voting"?

Right, and the problem with that is it's part of the narrative that you hear about America. How racist can America be? We elected a black man twice, to the presidency. Except, not since 1964 and the Civil Rights Act — and in '65 the Voting Rights Act — have the majority of whites who have voted, voted for a Democratic candidate.

And so who put Barack Obama in the White House? You had a large number of whites, but again not the majority, but you had an overwhelming number of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and the poor, people who made less than $15,000 a year. It was that coalition that turned out en masse, and put Barack Obama in the White House, twice.

So the election in which Donald Trump came to power, the 2016 presidential election, was the first one to take place after the gutting of the Voting Rights Act?

Yes it was, yes it was. And we saw it in its full, unvarnished fury. What we saw, for instance, there were a number of devices that the states had begun to implement.

In 2011 … Alabama passed a voter ID law, saying that you needed an ID — a government-issued photo ID — in order to vote. Now, the Republicans had recorded themselves talking about this, and they said, "How do we depress the black voter turnout? Because you know, you've got all these aborigines and all these illiterates going on these HUD — and that's Housing and Urban Development — HUD-financed buses, to go to the polls."

Barack Obama was elected by a coalition of African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and the poor, people who made less than $15,000 a year, Anderson said. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

I mean, the level of racism in that sentence is toxic. Based on how do we depress the black voter turnout, Alabama passes a voter ID law.

Now, Alabama identified the types of ID that are acceptable. What was not acceptable, for instance, for a government-issued photo ID, was public housing ID. But it doesn't really get more government-issued than public housing. But Alabama is a poor state, and 71 per cent of those in public housing were African-Americans. So if you deny that voter registration, that kind of ID, then you're beginning to cull out the electorate, you're beginning to shut the door on black voters.

You're telling me there's a paper trail here, a paper trail of intent, it's pretty obvious?

Yes, yes. It is so glaring, but part of why this hasn't received the kind of attention that it needs, I firmly believe, is the rhetoric of America, that this is the world's greatest democracy.

So it seems unfathomable that something as racist, as pernicious, as vile, and as destructive as these laws are actually being drafted, discussed, voted upon and implemented, and operationalized with horrific efficiency, but it's going on.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the full conversation near the top of this page.

Produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.


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