Vote As If Your Country Depends on It, Cont.
It often seems that what I'm reading in Jill Lepore's “These Truths: A History of the United States” mirrors what's going on in the national discussion.
I'm in the post-Civil War/Reconstruction/Populist-Nativist era now, and read the following this morning:
In the age of popular politics, Election Day was a day of drinking and brawls. Party thugs stationed themselves at the polls and bought votes by doling out cash, called “soap,” and handing voters pre-printed party tickets. Buying votes cost anything from $2.50, in San Francisco, to $20, in Connecticut. In Indiana, men sold their suffrages for no more than the cost of a sandwich. ... In 1871, after the New York Times began publishing the results of an investigation into the gross corruption of elections in New York City under Democratic Party boss William Magear Tweed, [progressive journalist Henry] George, who had spent considerable time in Australia and had married an Australian woman, proposed a reform that had been introduced in Australia in 1856. Under the terms of Australia's ballot law, no campaigning could take place within a certain distance of the polls, and election officials were required to print ballots and either to build booths or hire rooms, to be divided into compartments, where voters could mark their ballots in secret. Without such reforms, George wrote, “we might almost think soberly of the propriety of putting up our offices at auction.” To promote the Australian ballot, George created a new party, the Union Labor Party.
So thank an Australian today.
But as with every step forward there was a step back:
Many of the reforms proposed by populists had the effect of diminishing the political power of blacks and immigrants. Chief among them was the Australian ballot, more usually known as the secret ballot, which, by serving as a de facto literacy test, disenfranchised both black men in the rural South and new immigrants in northern cities.
And then the bastards really got going:
In 1890, Mississippi held a constitutional convention and adopted a new state constitution that included an “Understanding Clause”: voters were required to pass oral examination on the Constitution, on the grounds that “very few Negroes understood the clauses of the Constitution.” (Nor, of course, did most whites, though white men were not tested.) In the South, the secret ballot was adopted in this same spirit. Both by law and by brute force, southern legislators, state by state, and poll workers, precinct by precinct, denied black men the right to vote. In Louisiana, black voter registration dropped from 130,000 in 1898 to 5,300 in 1908, and to 730 in 1910.
Don't let the bastards win. Let's bring some accountability to this sumbitch.