The Daily Beast

The White Men of Georgia Return to Cull the ‘Wrong’ Voters

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Yes, Georgia’s new supremely racist voting law makes it illegal to bring food or water to people—meaning Black voters—waiting in long lines that are also the result of voter suppression. But it also seeks to disenfranchise Black voters in much more mundane ways, like making it harder to register. This is actually a kind of doubling-down, twofold approach to voter suppression efforts intended to keep the “wrong” sort of people from the polls. Because the history of America’s voter registration laws, like pretty much everything else in this country, is steeped in racism and nativism.

During the colonial and revolutionary eras, voting was a right conferred upon those who were white, male and landholding. As in Britain, this requirement rested on the absurd notion that only white men who owned property had a bona fide “stake in society,” meaning a true commitment to the well-being of their communities. There was also the matter of white Protestant supremacy, since Black—emancipated and enslaved—and native folks were largely denied the power of the ballot. Alexander Kessyar, author of The Right to Vote, notes that “Catholics were disenfranchised in five [colonies] and Jews in four.” In a 1776 letter, John Adams voiced support for these sorts of exclusionary policies, suggesting that the expansion of voting rights would open the floodgates to all kinds of chaos. “It is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters,” Adams wrote in the missive. “There will be no end of it.”

The 1788 ratification of the Constitution left suffrage matters to individual states, declaring in Article I, Section 4 that “the times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations.” The states, in turn, overwhelmingly kept voting rights limited to wealthy white guys, leaving just 6 percent of the country eligible to vote in the first presidential election.

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