The Painful History of the Georgia Voting LawRoundup
tags: Georgia, voting rights, Vote Suppression
Jason Morgan Ward, a professor of history at Emory University, is the author of Defending White Democracy: The Making of a Segregationist Movement and the Remaking of Racial Politics, 1936-1965 and, most recently, Hanging Bridge: Racial Violence and America’s Civil Rights Century.
Seventy-five years ago this July, a World War II veteran named Maceo Snipes reportedly became the first Black man to cast a ballot in his rural Georgia county. The next day, a white man shot him in his front yard, and Mr. Snipes would soon afterward die from those wounds.
Fortunately, three generations removed from the political reign of terror that claimed Mr. Snipes’s life, voter suppression seems much less likely to arrive by bullet. But we may not be as distant in our political moment from theirs as we might think: The long struggle to block access to the ballot has always relied on legal maneuvering and political schemes to achieve what bullets and bombs alone could not.
What legislators in Georgia and across the country have reminded us is that backlash to expanded voting rights has often arrived by a method that our eras share in common: by laws, like Georgia’s Senate Bill 202, passed by elected politicians.
Opponents of the new Georgia law denounce the legislation as “Jim Crow 2.0” precisely because they recognize the continuities between past and present. The bill’s most ardent supporters, who lined up in front of a painting of a building on the site of an antebellum plantation to watch Gov. Brian Kemp sign it into law, seem less interested in distancing themselves from that past and more eager for Americans to forget it.
“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John Roberts explained in 2013 in defending the Supreme Court’s gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision that helped clear the way for the current voter suppression campaigns. Yet the riot at the U.S. Capitol makes clear that concerted efforts to sow seeds of distrust in the democratic process can still stoke violent reaction.
The methods in the fight against voting rights have a common objective — an electorate narrowed along predictable and demonstrable fault lines. Many present-day proponents of voting restrictions are quick to distance themselves from the racist aims and attitudes of their forebears, but the most durable and enduring attacks on voting rights have long cloaked their goals in race-neutral language — at least in writing.