Photo Credit: Savannah Cole
There used to be a “joke,” back before the Voting Rights Act kicked in. Literacy tests were in vogue for assuring that voters could read and were white. In a small Georgia courthouse somewhere in the rural reaches, an old black man appears at the board of elections to register. He is told that he will have to pass a literacy test and is handed something to read, which, as it turns out, is a Chinese newspaper. The old man scrutinizes the paper for a while, and then is asked if he can read it. To their surprise, he nods affirmatively. “Well, what does it say?” they ask. He responds, “It says ain’t no Negroes voting in this county.”
In Georgia and the South, protecting those in power has since Reconstruction generally meant restricting the ability of African Americans to vote. That restriction was automatic for the people back before the Voting Rights Act, during the days when the Democratic primary was the only election that counted, and Democrats didn’t allow black people to vote in their primary.
The Voting Rights Act put an end to all that and to the Democratic Party in the South. Black people were able to register to vote, and they were welcome to vote in the Democratic primary, because most of the former Democrats were now voting in the Republican Primary.
Now, of course, the Supreme Court has decided that there is no further need for the Voting Rights Act, and Secretary of State Brian Kemp has for several years been zealously ridding the voter rolls of black voters. He came up with a scheme to throw out ballots if any detail as small as a hyphen varied among voter registration, drivers licenses, birth certificates, whatever. Voting groups led by state Rep. Stacey Abrams challenged Kemp in federal court, and he was ordered to cut that stuff out. He simply went to the Republican Georgia legislature, where his brother-in-law, Bill Cowsert, is a leader, and they passed a law empowering Kemp to continue nit-picking black voter registration.
So, you can’t call Kemp crooked for enforcing the law the Georgia legislature wrote for him, but you can call him stupid for getting caught three weeks before the election with 53,000 questionable voter registrations piled up on his desk. Crooked or stupid, he is blatantly interfering with citizens’ right to vote. He gets away with it because those are mostly black citizens, and a lot of them were registered by groups headed by people like Abrams. So, Kemp is only doing what Georgia leaders have always done—suppressing the black vote. Never before, though, has such a leader been so directly challenged by such an opponent—one of those black voters, a woman, a Yale-educated lawyer, a legislator with a history of working with the old, Republican white guys in the legislature, a candidate as smart and articulate as Kemp is slow-witted and mush-mouthed.
As of this writing, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution/WSB poll says the election is too close to call, but it also says that white, Republican women are standing by their men, in spite of Kemp’s close grab with Trump. As we head down the home stretch, the uppity young black woman is pushing the good ole white boy, but he is firmly in charge of the election results, empowered by the Georgia legislature, with the Department of Justice locked out.
What can we do about it in Athens? We can, at the very least, vote. We’ve got a lot of votes in Athens, and every one of our votes—at least the ones that don’t get thrown out—goes right to the bottom line, to the state vote total.
While we’re at it, we can vote to re-elect our fine Democratic state representatives, Deborah Gonzalez and Johnathan Wallace, depending on which district we’re in. We can vote for Marisue Hilliard and Dawn Johnson, depending on our state senate district, and we can cast our ballots for Tabitha A. Johnson-Green, the mystery Democratic candidate for Congress running against the invisible, right-wing, Republican talk show preacher, Rep. Jody Hice
To round it out, don’t forget John Barrow for secretary of state and Charlie Bailey for attorney general. In addition, there are some more good Democrats on the ballot. You don’t have to be able to read Chinese to figure this one out.