Voter sup­pres­sion that echoes the KKK and Jim Crow

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL - COL­BERT I. KING kingc@wash­

When it comes to voter sup­pres­sion, there’s not a dime’s worth of dif­fer­ence be­tween the goals of the post-re­con­struc­tion Ku Klux Klan and the in­ten­tion of to­day’s Don­ald Trump Repub­li­cans. Their com­mon en­deavor? Make it harder for peo­ple of color to vote.

The tar­gets of the Klan then were com­mu­ni­ties that posed se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal threats. Thus, the KKK con­cen­trated on for­merly enslaved Black men, Black elected of­fi­cials and their sup­port­ers, as Na­tional Geo­graphic noted.

To­day, Trump’s Repub­li­can al­lies are tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties that are home mainly to peo­ple of color.

Of course the dif­fer­ence be­tween the turn of the 20th cen­tury and now is a mat­ter of tac­tics. But let’s fol­low the com­mon thread through Amer­i­can his­tory.

The Klan’s call­ing card was vi­o­lence ren­dered in the dark of night by men dis­guised in white hoods and robes. The pri­mary weapon was fear.

No act of ter­ror went too far. Cross-burn­ing, kid­nap­ping, mur­der and lynch­ing were de­ployed to keep Blacks from the polls.

The post- Civil War era also brought forth a group of White peo­ple who thought of them­selves as “Redeemers” — South­ern “pa­tri­ots” out to res­cue Old Dixie from an en­croach­ing fed­eral gov­ern­ment, with aims to re­store white supremacy and main­tain power over Black vot­ers through ger­ry­man­der­ing, elec­toral in­tim­i­da­tion and un­fair bal­lot laws.

The Klan’s de­cline gave rise to Jim Crow laws through­out the South that of­fi­cially au­tho­rized racism in places of pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tion and placed race-laden road­blocks across paths to the vot­ing booth. That shame­ful era also birthed the poll tax, lit­er­acy tests and the “grand­fa­ther clause” that al­lowed White men who failed lit­er­acy tests to vote if their grand­fa­thers had voted by 1867.

The voter sup­pres­sion tac­tics of 2020 don’t in­volve the KKK’S night rides, it’s true, but they are equally fo­cused on con­trol­ling Elec­tion Day out­comes that fa­vor folks who dis­fa­vor folks of color.

Thus, we wit­ness to­day’s purges of voter rolls in Black com­mu­ni­ties; oner­ous voter-id and wit­nesssig­na­ture laws; changes to the terms and re­quire­ments of voter regis­tra­tion; lim­i­ta­tions on polling places; cur­tailed early vot­ing; and the dis­en­fran­chise­ment of peo­ple with felony con­vic­tions — even af­ter other vot­ers have af­firmed their right to vote.

True, those at­tacks on vot­ing haven’t led to emer­gency rooms or ceme­ter­ies. If al­lowed to stand, how­ever, such re­stric­tions can be just as ef­fec­tive at strip­ping elec­toral power from Black Amer­i­cans and other peo­ple of color.

Vot­ing van­dal­ism is not all that vot­ers of a darker hue must con­tend with this year. Star­ing them in the face is the “army” of sup­port­ers that Pres­i­dent Trump wants to see de­scend upon polling places to “mon­i­tor” voter be­hav­ior. The prospect of Trump’s unof­fi­cial army of thugs lurk­ing around vot­ing precincts may be in­tim­i­dat­ing enough to scare off some Demo­cratic vot­ers. A de­pressed turnout among Black vot­ers would spell vic­tory for voter sup­pres­sion.

Trump’s re­lent­less sup­port­ers have made sur­rep­ti­tious ef­forts to sup­press the Black vote into an art form. The lat­est un­mask­ing came with dis­cov­ery by so­cial me­dia re­searchers of dozens of fake ac­counts of sup­posed Black sup­port­ers of Trump that push out to tens of thou­sands a nar­ra­tive that at­tempts to soften Trump’s racist im­age and, by ex­ten­sion, dis­suade Black vot­ers from back­ing Joe Bi­den and Ka­mala D. Har­ris. A non-vote for the Demo­cratic ticket is a vote for Trump and his side­kick, Mike Pence.

Not to be un­done, Trump is us­ing the bully pul­pit to do his part on be­half of voter sup­pres­sion. He’s us­ing — no, make that abus­ing — his of­fice as a plat­form from which to scream bloody mur­der about the “prob­lem” of voter fraud. In fact, the only fraud be­ing per­pe­trated is Trump’s bo­gus charge.

Not only is Trump try­ing to chill turnout, but he is also lay­ing the ground­work for le­gal chal­lenges of an elec­tion he fears los­ing.

Again, Trump’s be­hav­ior is tied to the past. He spews the same voter-fraud fic­tion con­jured up dur­ing the Re­con­struc­tion era to dis­credit and sup­press the votes of newly freed slaves.


Don’t laugh. The scan­dal is that Trump and his back­ers might get away with it — just as the Ku Klux Klan, the Redeemers and Deep South gov­ern­ments sup­pressed Black vot­ers for gen­er­a­tions.

But only, know­ing what we know, if we let them. Folks, it’s the 19th cen­tury all over again. We must act like we have learned some­thing in the past 150 years. Let no road­block sep­a­rate you from your rights. Vote!

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