A noted authority on the history of American voting returns with a disturbing account of American political leaders who have, since the beginning of the republic, worked to limit the franchise.
Lichtman (History/American Univ.; The Case for Impeachment, 2017, etc.), a winner of the National Jewish Book Award, does not conceal his political preferences throughout this sturdy account; it’s abundantly clear that he is unhappy with both Donald Trump and the current GOP. Nonetheless, he marches us through the dark history of voter limitation, from the Founders to now, and the images he paints are not flattering. The Constitution itself is vague about voting rights—by design, since white male property owners had limited trust in others who did not meet their club requirements—and as Lichtman escorts us through the decades, we see an ugly pattern: people in power doing everything they can to remain so—and limiting suffrage has always been a favorite tactic. The author examines a wide variety of discrimination: by race, gender, place of origin (immigrants, as he reminds us, have rarely been welcome here). He spends a lot of time exploring the denial and suppression of the African-American vote, and he notes how such efforts have succeeded and how they continue to dampen voter turnout. His text is rich, occasionally dense, with examples. Legal challenges and court decisions, statehouse maneuvers, legislative misbehavior—all combine to leave readers with a dim view of the history of voting rights in this country. The author also explores the issue of “voter fraud” that many (who wish to limit voting rights) have long raised. As Lichtman reveals, repeated studies have found virtually no evidence of it: a tiny fraction of a single percent. At the end he offers some suggestions for renewal, including easier voter registration, a holiday for national elections, and so on.
An alarming, important, perhaps even essential book.