This provocative study of minority-vote suppression successfully links blatant Reconstruction-era tactics and regulations with modern-day voting in America.
Activist Piven (Political Science and Sociology/CUNY; Challenging Authority, 2006, etc.), along with co-authors Minnite (Political Science/Barnard Coll.) and Groarke (Government/Manhattan Coll.), argues that decentralized electoral rules and regulations were originally designed to limit the African-American vote in the South, in response to the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which enfranchised all freed black men. Tactics employed in the 19th century included literacy tests, poll taxes, violence and intimidation; the ultimate discretion to disqualify voters was ceded to registrars. The authors note that the American personal-registration system puts the burden of registration on the voter rather than on the government, unlike many European democracies. The U.S. electoral system further allows certification to be periodic, permitting local election officials to sporadically purge voters. The book kicks into high gear when the authors describe, in riveting detail, the fevered techniques employed to suppress the black vote in important 1960s mayoral elections in Gary, Chicago and Cleveland, where the African-American electorate had surged due to migration. Qualified black voters were purged from registration rolls, ghost voters were added in white precincts and a campaign of disinformation prevailed, impeding new registrations of poor minorities. All three African-American candidates won anyway, but another goal was to mobilize the white vote by playing to racist fears using ugly stereotypes. The authors posit that these fears stem from demographic realities as America’s composition becomes more diverse, and that the Republican Party has become the champion for delaying the inevitable devolution of white power by focusing on close elections. The most compelling section is the informed analysis of how aggressive tactics, such as targeted misinformation campaigns and the challenging of black voters at polling places, were used to secure a Republican victory “by 537 votes” in the Florida 2000 election, where “nearly 180,000 ballots were cast but not counted…more than half of these by blacks, who make up only 12 percent of the state’s population.”
Authoritative, illuminating and accessible.