Democracy Works

Voter suppression doesn't repeat, but it rhymes

Episode Summary

Voting rights scholar Carol Anderson joins us this week to explore the history of voter access in the United States, and how efforts to restrict the vote today resemble tactics from the past.

Episode Notes

Carol Anderson's book One Person, No Vote was written before COVID-19, but many of the patterns she discussed are more salient than ever as states enact new voting restrictions ahead of the 2022 midterms. In the book and in this conversation, Anderson traces the history of voter suppression since the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder,  which nullified critical pieces of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

She draws parallels between poll taxes and literacy tests in the Jim Crow era to voter ID laws and other modern-day barriers designed to keep people of color from voting. As Mark Twain famously said, "history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes." After listening to this conversation, it's hard not to think that's the case with voting. 

This week is National Voter Education week, an effort to bridge the gap between registering to vote and casting a ballot. Visit to learn more about this important effort.

Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University and author of the bestselling books One Person No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Nation's Divide, and The Second: Race and Guns in a  Fatally Unequal America. 

Additional Information

Anderson's website

Anderson on Twitter

Brennan Center for Justice on DMV closures

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Episode Transcription

Michael Berkman 00:03
From the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State University, I'm Michael Berkman.

Candis Watts Smith  00:08
I'm Candis Watts Smith

Jenna Spinelle 00:10
I'm Jenna Spinelle, and welcome to Democracy Works. This week we are talking with Carol Anderson, who is the Charles Howard Chandler, a professor of African American Studies at Emory University, author of several books, the one I think we are going to be focusing on most today is called One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy. And we were lucky enough to have Carol with us on campus at Penn State recently, her visit had really been a long time coming, we first booked her back in 2019. And, you know, I think a lot of the things that she writes about in one person, no votes are still going on today. But we're have been a lot of new wrinkles, so to speak, added to the mix when it comes to voting and elections since then,

Michael Berkman 01:03
You know, maybe it was fortuitous that we had to wait as long as we did, because a lot has happened since the 2020. election, she was supposed to come in before the 2020 election, a lot happened, that she certainly anticipates in her book.

Candis Watts Smith  01:19
I'm glad that we're talking about this, you know, I'm glad that we're talking about it now, one, because upcoming October 4 through eighth is National voter Education Week. But also, please, issues around voting are ones that are in the air. But you know, we have such attention deficit, due to you know, we have a crisis in Afghanistan, and on the southern border with Haitian migrants, and with the infrastructure bill and the human infrastructure bill and whatever else is going on. And since January six, the issue of voting has remained important to people who are really concerned about suppressing votes. And since January, we've seen numerous states come down with more writing expansive voter suppression policies. So I'm pleased to have her here and to have a conversation with her just to keep us keep that notion and the ideas and that importance of voting rights at the forefront of our mind.

Michael Berkman 02:32
But you know, just to just to review for everybody make sure that we're all on the on the same page here, you know, like democracies around the world, the American states made all kinds of changes to their laws and rules, during the pandemic to make it possible and safe for people to vote. And it's not surprising that states are now sort of cleaning up. Some of these decisions that were made, you know, on the fly may be made somewhat suspect by one branch of government rather than the other. But it's just let me mention that even in Pennsylvania, well, not even in Pennsylvania, because we're constantly playing with our election rolls. But in Pennsylvania, yesterday, Republican lawmakers proposed a constitutional amendment that would undo a lot of what was done in 2020. And go a step further. And it would reduce the kinds of IDs that could be used and it introduces a voter id bill introduces a voter id does a variety of other things to make mayline voting more difficult. And it's trying to do all this through constitutional amendment, because it knows that it can't get the Democratic governors support. So what about this Qantas you think all this fraud talk is real?

Candis Watts Smith  03:48
I think even just this idea, right? That we're questioning the integrity of our elections, when there is no proof of fraud does does a lot of work. And the narrative does a lot of work to get people to think that, hey, maybe we do need voter ID laws. And maybe we do need to raise the barriers for who can vote in order to make sure that our elections have integrity, when indeed for all of this time, or let me say, as long as we've allowed most people in America who are eligible to vote to vote, the things have been fine. And so you know, this idea that somehow there's a shock to the system, a threat to the system of voting across the states is asinine, but it is effective. Yeah,

Michael Berkman 04:39
I mean, it makes me crazy, because I mean, the penalties for committing voter fraud are pretty high. And Act is a pretty good disincentive to keep in an election. There's a woman sitting in jail in Texas for five years for voting when she wasn't supposed to vote. So it is not as though as a voter fraud is a is something thing that you can just do and not worry about the consequences. It's quite serious. And certainly among republican supporters, they have convinced people that there was extensive fraud in 2020, no matter how much people like us push back against it. And then ideas like vote like voter id just seem to some people as fairly reasonable in response to the fraud, which they keep, which they keep hearing about,

Candis Watts Smith  05:26
We are having a different conversation because conservatives have done a really excellent job in changing the narrative and changing the space of debate. So instead of saying, we're not having a conversation now about voter ID or not voter ID, but instead we're having a conversation about which voter IDs are less, are easier to access and this more equitable, instead of keeping in mind that we haven't had voter ID for the great majority of American history and elections, and things have been fine. But the change in narrative also means that we have changed the options at hand that we need to select some ID forms over other ID forms, right.

Michael Berkman 06:15
But in addition to these voter suppression methods are also these just blatant elections aversion, things going on in the states as well. And these are efforts to empower poll workers to make it easier for them to intimidate voters, pushing certification and counting decisions to state legislators, largely republican state legislators, in other words, taking them away from executive branch officials, even taking them away from counties and cities that traditionally did their own voting vote, counting of votes certification and moving it into the legislatures.

Candis Watts Smith  06:54
Yeah, you're right. I mean, even when we go back, we can think about times, like the 1898 coup in Wilmington, North Carolina. Now, we don't do that anymore. I guess. We can do it through these really legal, technical, hard to understand power shifting ways that you're that you're talking about. So here are when we talk about the elections or version, what we mean is that the loser can steal the election.

Jenna Spinelle 07:25
So you know, Carol, I think describes what you were just talking about Candace as bureaucratic violence. And I think we'll hear more from her about that in the interview, as well as some of the other things that we've set the stage for here. So let's go now to the interview with Carol Anderson.

Jenna Spinelle 07:49
Carol Anderson, welcome to democracy works. Thank you so much for joining us.

Carol Anderson 07:52
Oh, thank you so much for having me, Jenna. Thank you.

Jenna Spinelle 07:54
So as I've been reading your books, one person, no votes and and the second, I've been thinking a lot about the the time when many of us sort of forgot about or took democracy for granted. And you know, I think you write about Shelby County v holder a lot in in one person, no vote that happened in in 2013, seven years ago or so now, that was a time when I know, I certainly wasn't paying as much attention as I as I should have been. And so I think maybe that might be a good place to start, if you wouldn't mind, taking us back to that decision, or perhaps further, if you like, and just talking about what the stakes were, and you know what, and and then we'll get to like what's happened since then?

Carol Anderson 08:41
I think the best place for me to start is why we needed the voting rights act in the first place. And that is because we had the rise of Jim Crow. And the rise of Jim Crow included massive disenfranchisement of the black population, and using various tools that allowed them to ride and race neutral language that was also racially targeted. It was so effective, that by 1940, only 3% of age eligible African Americans were registered to vote in the South 3%. So you get this massive civil rights movement. And you see this, we see the images of Selma, a Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That's because in Dallas County, there were fewer than 1% of African Americans registered to vote, no matter how hard they tried. And we had those same kinds of numbers coming out of Mississippi coming out of Georgia, coming out of other counties in Alabama. And so this massive fight for the right to vote leads to the Voting Rights Act. And what the Voting Rights Act does is it has what it calls pre clearance, which means that before a state or jurisdiction that has a history of discrimination and they have these measures to lay that out what that looks like. And that use is one of these measures of disfranchisement. That they any change that they make to their voting laws has to be okayed first, by the US Department of Justice, or by the federal courts in DC. What Shelby County v holder did was to gut the pre-clearance provision. So that meant that these states that had a history of discrimination, now ran book wild and lost their minds. I mean, came out the gate two hours after Shelby County v. Holder, you saw Texas with the voter ID law two hours afterwards. And and to get a sense of what that means. It's that the that law that Texas passed, had to be litigated over and over and the course kept saying, Lord, this thing is racist. This thing is racist. Lord, can you get more racist in Texas is like hold my beer. And and would keep tweaking this law until they could tweak it enough to get it through the courts so that they could have this voter ID law that had been so racist. That's what Shelby County v holder did it let the dogs out?

Jenna Spinelle 11:18
Yeah. And I do want to come back to voter id that's sort of a hot topic in the news right now. But you know, what was? What was the court's rationale, if you want to call it that in that decision?

Carol Anderson 11:31
Absolutely. So it was a five, four decision, Chief Justice john roberts wrote the decision. And what they argued were several things. One was that the Voting Rights Act was really a relic of America's racist past. That kind of racism just wasn't happening anymore. We had moved on we had overcome. And so you've got a law that is based on the past and not dealing with the current realities of America, too, was that the law just picked on the south, that it discriminated against the South is singled out the South. And it really wasn't fair to just pick on the south. And that the the standards that were used were old standards. And so the court was like, come back with something new, come back with something that really reflects where we are right now as a nation. And so Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who pinned the dissent, said, you know, you pointing to well, we don't have this kind of stuff happening anymore. That's like being out in the rain, and you have your umbrella up, you're like, Well, I'm not getting wet. And so when you get rid of your umbrella, all of a sudden you're going to get soaked. And so we got rid of our umbrella, and we got soaked.

Jenna Spinelle 12:47
Let's talk a little bit more about Chief Justice Roberts, I think in in recent years, he's sort of come to be known as this institutionalist. Maybe like the same voice in the room. The Trump appointees, but what what are his views on voting rights? In particular,

Carol Anderson 13:04
Chief Justice John Roberts hates the Voting Rights Act. He grew up his mentor was William Rehnquist, Rehnquist who became a justice on the Supreme Court and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Rehnquist cut his teeth in Phoenix, doing voter suppression challenges at the polls where he had a group of folks going into minority precincts challenging voters, show me you know, prove that you can read prove that you're you know, you're really American citizen. And and Rehnquist called the the Voting Rights Act. Basically, the descendants of those who had been enslaved This is their revenge on the slave holders, the descendants of the slave holders voting rights as revenge. I mean, so you got the framing there. john roberts was in the Department of Justice and he was known as being so anti voting rights and so when you think about his opinions going through so we he gets this this idea of being this institutionalists this almost centrist because you saw him on the obergefell decision that dealt with the rights for a same sex marriage. And you know, and you see him on the abortion case down in Texas, where he was like, Huh, so he gets this this rep but when you follow him in terms of voting, he is really consistent on one of these kind of bedrock foundational principles of democracy he is consistent

Jenna Spinelle 14:43
Wo what what was the the activity you know during this time that in that sort of the the Obama era when when a lot of people were kind of tuned out from what was was happening you know, what was the kind of grass roots energy

Carol Anderson 14:57
Wo the the sense was that there was a A larger sense that surely they wouldn't overturn the Voting Rights Act, surely they wouldn't get the Voting Rights Act. It was labeled as the most effective piece of legislation that Congress had ever passed. And there was a reauthorization in 2006, where the vote was something like 98 to zero in the Senate. I mean, can you even imagine that now, and it was something similar in the house where there were just a handful of folks who voted against the voting rights act in the house. So it passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan bill. And the US Department of Justice had put forth over 700 cases that it had blocked from 1982 to 2005 or so a policy changes that different jurisdictions wanted, that the DOJ had blocked because they were racially discriminatory. So one would think so there was this kind of sense, like, Look, we've got the evidence of racial discrimination in voting practices. It's just so clear, and the Shelby County Commissioners had actually violated the voting rights act by changing the districts of Calera city, in such a way that it removed the the lone black Councilman. So this was just like, so crystal doggone clear that folks were thinking slam dunk. But what you saw happening was that, that the conservatives understood what was up what was up. And so in North Carolina, for instance, they had put forth their house had put forth voter ID law. And then when it went over to the Senate, the Senate saw this decision coming and said, Hold on, hold on, we've got a feeling that Oh, by the pricking of my thumb, something wicked this way comes. And sure enough, the moment that decision went through, the North Carolina senate created what was called the monster bill. And this was the thing that added to voter id put more restrictions on voter id cut off early voting. Had purchase poll closures, the whole nine yards, that was in this monster bill. And that's what so there was this anticipation, like that old Heinz commercial or Carly Simon is singing anticipation. That's what was happening with these state legislators, like in Texas, and in Alabama, they were like, Oh, this is gonna be so good. And, and one of the things that was sparking this sense, was the election of Barack Obama. Because in 2008, you know, so one of the things the notions that we get is that, oh, we have crossed the racial Rubicon. We have we have overcome. Look at us, we elected a black man to the White House. Wow. Oh, Martin Luther King's dream, right. And so there was this kind of struck that was happening. And so but what that meant was that the majority of whites had voted for Barack Obama, look how we have overcome. But that's not true. The majority of whites have not voted for a Democratic candidate for president since 1964. And so how on earth did Barack Obama get into the White House? Well, you had a sizable number of whites, but he had an incredible ground game that brought in millions of new voters to the polls, overwhelmingly black, Hispanic, Asian, American, young and the poor. That would become the hit list for voter suppression after Shelby County v. holder. So this is why there was this massive anticipation like, oh, look what we get to get rid of. Yeah. And when you look at the voter suppression laws, they take on at least one of the groups and when I call that Obama coalition,

Jenna Spinelle 19:01
You know, one of the other things I've been thinking about the the the republicans are just so much better at playing this long game about seeing, you know, they think in, you know, 2030 these big hear terms, whether it's it's the, you know, getting judges or other things, but, you know, I wonder if they also saw the writing on the wall that when the court asks Congress for a different standard, they sort of saw where Congress was going and how realistic that might may or may not be,

Carol Anderson 19:29
Right and, and I think that part of what we're seeing is that you're also looking at what we call the the demographic cliff, I mean, so it is after 2012, where we're Lindsey graham says, We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for long. So the demographic composition of the parties is so fundamentally different. And the demographic changes that are happening in America are also so fundamentally Different than when you look at what the base of the Republican Party is, the republican party is over 80% white the the Democratic Party is something in the 50% white range. And so this is where with the changing demographics in America, and and the Republicans had made the decision to go hard core white supremacist in it with the southern strategy of 1968. Hardcore, I mean, so actually before then with Goldwater and, and in that making the decision to go hardcore white supremacists, they they thought that what they could do is bring in the the solid democratic south into the republican party that would generate enough congressmen and senators so that they could push forward a, a conservative agenda. But what they didn't recognize was that you cannot bargain with hardcore white supremacy, hardcore white supremacy took over the party and move the party so far to the right, that it could not resonate with the vast population, the demographic population of America. So those the anti immigrant language, the xenophobia that comes out of there, the the anti the massagin need that comes out of there, the the anti blackness that comes out of there. So it could not resonate. And so if you can't resonate, and you're in a democracy, what do you do? Do you change your policies, which is what the autopsy after 2012 said? Or do you double down on voter suppression? they opted for door number two?

Jenna Spinelle 21:40
Yeah, sure, changing the rules, as opposed to changing your strategies. So there's, you know, we've been talking at this sort of national like big picture level, but you in your books, right. So in such a detailed way, about the way that this plays out in cities and towns and you know, you you equate a driver's license to a poll tax and talk about it. Tell us about that, and how that fits into this this larger story of the post Shelby County era.

Carol Anderson22:10
Yeah. So you know, a poll tax was one of the major elements in the Mississippi plan of 1890, and massive disfranchisement, it had been around before them, but Mississippi, put a Mississippi stamp on it. And it basically said, Well, you know, democracy is expensive. And so if you really believed in democracy, you would be willing to pay a small fee in order to be able to vote. So you see how it flips the responsibility on the citizen, instead of on the state to run a smooth election. So if you really cared about democracy, you would be willing to pay that small nominal fee amounted to two to 6%. of a Mississippi farm family's annual income. This was no small nominal fee. This was real. And so when we talking about the voter ID, folks were like, Oh, come on, come on. Everybody's got a driver's license. Just like with the poll tax, it plays to a kind of middle class norm, that everybody can do this. How hard is this? This is really easy. So let's talk about Alabama. So in Alabama, what Alabama did was to say, you know, you've got to have the government issued photo ID in order to vote. And then Alabama said, but your public housing ID doesn't count. Now, does it get more government issued than public housing, but in Alabama, 71% of those in public housing are African American, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, figured out that for many, that was the only ID that they had. And so now, okay, let's go get a driver's license. But think about it. Cars are expensive. You've got the car note. You've got the the insurance, you've got the maintenance, you've got gas, you've got parking to ching, ching ching. The disparate income and the disparate wealth in America means that disproportionately African Americans do not have driver's licenses. So then what governor Bentley did in Alabama, for fiscal reasons was he shut down the Department of Motor Vehicles In the black belt counties. So what you do is you create an obstacle and then you create an obstacle to that obstacle, obstacle, driver's license, then you can't get to the driver's license bureau because now it's 50 miles away, and Alabama is ranked 48th in the nation in terms of public transportation. So if you don't have a driver's license, and Alabama is ranked 48th in the nation in public Transportation, how do you get 50 miles to go get the driver's license that you need in order to vote, you're going to have to come out of your pocket. Big. That's a poll tax.

Jenna Spinelle 25:14
So you know, here here in Pennsylvania, we've seen some of this playing out over the past couple of months, we have a democratic governor and a Republican legislature and they've been sort of bargaining or just at a minimum going back and forth in the press about what what they might do, you know, the, you know, Republicans say, Okay, well, we'll give you expanded early voting, if we can keep the ID and, you know, the governor kind of volleys back, I guess, if the choice is something or nothing, you know, how do you think about what what role compromise might play here?

Carol Anderson 25:50
And I love that. So you think about how we're willing to compromise our democracy, we're willing to compromise our right to vote? And why are we willing to compromise it? Because those who don't want certain people to vote, are just digging in and saying, We've got the power to stop you. We can stop it fully, or we can stop it partially, but we're going to stop it, because we love the power. And so that's what we're seeing. But the Voting Rights Act itself was a compromise. In order to get that through in order to get it through. They had to agree that it had to be reauthorized after five years. What bill has to be reauthorized? I mean, so that was the way in in in that reauthorization in 1970. You had Strom Thurmond, who, out of South Carolina who had run in 48 on the Dixiecrat for president under the Dixiecrat banner, Strom Thurmond, who was like, Oh, we don't need this Voting Rights Act anymore. Everything's fine and good. Not so this the sense of, of, of racism as being an a thing of the past, and and the umbrage that folks take at being called racist for doing racist acts. They take more umbrage at that than they take and racism itself and racism is underlying this, this, this the push for compromise on this, this sense of the demographic changes, and we hear it in other ways. We hear it in terms of replacement theory, we hear it in terms of they're coming, they're bringing all of these Afghan refugees here so that they can become voters and vote us out. So that kind of sense of anybody who is not white is really not American. That's what's foundational in this. And so, the compromise. I mean, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, but we've got to keep it moving forward. Because what we have seen is a ruthlessness about our democracy, a willingness to skewer our democracy to skewer a right to vote in order to maintain power and power to do what, you know power to make this a better place. No. It is. It is unhealthy, it is unholy. It is wrong.

Jenna Spinelle28:23
And you know, to that that point of of people in power I think some of some of the perhaps only bright spots of this post Shelby County era have come from citizen led initiatives. You know, amendment four in in Florida, the, you know, Katie Fahey in Michigan ending gerrymandering. I mean, what, what role do you see those those types of efforts? Are there more that people can or should be doing to support that type of work that's happening in the States?

Carol Anderson28:53
Absolutely. Like amendment four was huge. amendment four dealt with re enfranchising returning citizens. Florida was one of the few states that had permanent felony disenfranchisement. And that law actually emerged out of 1868. Because in 1867, Congress passed the reconstruction act that said black men could vote. So Florida's response was like, Oh, no, I don't think so. And created this permanent felony disenfranchisement law in 1868. So by the time we got to 2018, there were like 6.1 million Americans who could not vote because of disfranchisement, a felony disenfranchisement, and 1.7 million of them were in Florida alone. So and you had folks going, wait a minute, this is wrong when people have paid their dues to society, then how do you create this kind of civic death? Truly civic death and, and so a minute metaphor was huge. But think about then the response of the Republican legislature. The response of the Republican legislature was like, No, we don't want all those folks voting. And so they said, Fine. So being able to complete your sentence means that you have paid all your fines, fees and rest court restitutions fight court fees, fines and restitution. You've paid it all. And and folks are like, oh, Lord, that smells like a poll tax. It really smells like a poll tax. And this goes up to the 11th circuit. And the court rules that no, it is not a poll tax. And be the floor does not does not have to tell people how much they owe. So you get the worst of the poll tax and the literacy tests where you've got to pay, but the state doesn't have to tell you how much you owe. And so with the literacy test, they could the state would ask you an unanswerable question. How many bubbles in a bar of soap? And to be able to answer that question and determine your ability to vote. So the those initiatives are important, because I think part of what it does is it engages the citizens, it engages the citizens because they see the the cliffs in American democracy, they see the fissures in the things that need to be fixed. And that kind of engagement is essential. And it also unveils the venous or the venality, whatever that word is of, of legislators, politicians who don't want that democracy. And so that means that we organize more, because we need to have folks who believe in democracy actually in government.

Jenna Spinelle 31:47
Right, well, we will leave it there. Carol Anderson, thanks so much for joining us today. 

Carol Anderson 31:51
Thank you. Thank you.

Candis Watts Smith  32:01
Thank you, Jenna, for that excellent interview with Carol Anderson. One of the things that stuck out to me is about you. There's a part where you all are talking about Justice Roberts, and how he is not necessarily very warm around questions of voting, in part because of his training and his ideological bent. And now we see the Supreme Court basically able to run roughshod over voting rights with a three majority. One of the cases, you know, like one of one of the cases that's really important right now is Shelby versus holder, which you all discussed and explained really beautifully about how that undermined the pre-clearance provision. But also, even more recently, there was a case out of Arizona, that did not strike down section two, which had been the kind of you know, since section four and five weren't doing its thing, you could use section two, which says that there should be no disparate impact by race by color, or membership of one of the language minority groups. And in the case, the Supreme Court basically is kind of the majority essentially says, look, we don't, we don't see any unusual burdens of voting, by preventing people from voting out of precinct, or even though the precincts change all of the time. Or by having someone close to you bring in your ballot, even though the chances of you getting to the postal services is nil, because you live in a very rural place, or you live in a reservation. So here, we just kind of see an expansion of evidence of the Roberts Court taking part in and suppressing votes.

Michael Berkman 34:05
Yeah, I think that, you know, when you think about these from the perspective, or the role that the Supreme Court might make play going forward, you're run into a couple of different issues. You know, for one thing, the Constitution gives most power over elections to the States. And then, of course, states are controlled by political parties, political parties care about winning elections, and you run into all kinds of mischief. But but most of the power for elections is given to the States. And the other I think, is that there's no right to vote in the Constitution. And people sort of assume there is but and maybe there is implicitly because the ninth amendment specifically says that, that Americans are not restricted to the rights that are enumerated in the Constitution, but that others that may be covered strewed are retained by the people. So it may be possible to find a right to vote in the Constitution.

Candis Watts Smith  35:07
Yeah, I just just to be especially clear about what you're saying is that what the Constitution says is that you cannot deny a person to vote because of race, previous condition of servitude, because of gender, because a person, you know, because of some age, the age thing, right, so the 15 1926 amendment. But what that also means is that there are other plenty, plenty of other reasons why you can deny a person, the right to vote. And so historically, it has been through poll taxes, or grandfather clauses or white primaries. And so we got rid of those things in part through the constitution and also through the Voting Rights Act. But new technical knowledge, new technologies of exclusion are always being invented. And that's what we're seeing. So you know, the other thing that comes to mind is like how much of the laws are around standards that meet middle class Americans live. So if you are a middle class, well educated American, you can just leave the state to get an abortion, or you can drive 40 miles to go to get a driver's license, or whatever you need to ensure your access to various provisions of the law. And so when we talk about well, it seems so common sense for a large number of Americans will just get a driver's license or just get an idea of some sort. But that is if you are working under the assumption that other people are just like you, and have the same access to what seems like pretty normal things to have a car money to get the things that you need in order to vote or you know,

Michael Berkman 37:09
Or have your birth certificate that you might need to might need to have at

Candis Watts Smith  37:15
Yeah, like to have to get ID.

Michael Berkman 37:19

The Brennan Center at one point, I don't know if they're still up, but if they are, maybe Jenna can put them in the in the show notes, you had a series of maps from I think it was Georgia, Alabama, another southern state, showing the location and the hours of motor vehicle bureaus. And I think the issue at the time was that Georgia was going to close a whole bunch of motor vehicle bureau has to because they weren't used that much. And I mean, the essence of this map is that for especially in the most African American areas of the states, it's awfully hard to find an open motor vehicle place that you can get to to get the ID that you will need to vote, especially if you don't already drive.

Candis Watts Smith  38:04
So as we can see that we're not going to be able to depend on the Supreme Court to shore up rights. And there are many states that are working to expand, as you mentioned, like California, but there are plenty that are also working to contract. The I guess the other part of government that's left is Congress. And we had the for the people act. And then there's also the john lewis voting Act, which we talked about earlier this year, and neither have gone through and become law. And so now, right, all of these things could actually be dealt with on some level by Congress kind of raising the floor around what is allowed, but but we see kind of contention, risk as well. But

Michael Berkman 38:58
Again, you know, I'm just skeptical that this court is going to accept almost anything that will come out of Congress that shores up voting rights mean, they've done, they've so chopped away at the voting rights, that it's just hard for me to imagine the basis on which they're going to say that the federal government can come in and tell states, what kinds of voter ID that they have to accept.

Candis Watts Smith  39:21
I suppose, though, that there is just, you know, one more part of American society that could help and that is just regular old people, regular folk who use their effort, time, skills, talent, to mobilize Americans toward, you know, for example, in cases in the in the States, where citizen led initiatives are allowed. We have seen that citizens do take up that space to put new initiatives on the ballot to expand voting. And in those cases, citizens, regular citizens do tend to support those. Those means to either expand x, you know, expand the vote, or to try to make Jerry, like redistricting commissions more fair, whether they actually are or not is a whole other issue. But the fact that, that the effort is there to try to make voting fair redistricting more fair was a lot about, you know, maybe that's the that's where we're going to have to look.

Michael Berkman 40:35
Yeah, I mean Carol mentioned specifically Desmond Meade, who led the Florida voter restoration, Florida voter voter rights restoration project in Florida, which restored the vote to two felons, and we're gonna have Desmond mead on the show in a couple of months, because he's receiving the brown democracy medal, we have a lot of respect for the work he did there, not only because of its support for voting rights, but the way he was able to unite Floridians across party lines, so that that passed with close to 70% of the vote, to support voting rights. But then we also see, you know, we see the problem too, because almost immediately upon passing, and I know she talks about this, the Florida Legislature, so putting it back in the hands of elected officials, when it came time to implement this voter passed at, did everything they could to undercut it,

Candis Watts Smith  41:35
Then we could pick it back to the citizens who've also made a really big effort to raise funds in order to allow people to pay whatever restitution and fees, et cetera, et cetera. But, you know, there's something certainly to be said about our political representatives who are doing everything they can to curtail the rights of their constituents. You know, I think, in the end, people, what I hope, let's say that, what I hope that people will see how these laws spillover in unintended ways, and may in fact, negatively impact not only the people that were intended to be suppressed, but others. And so maybe it will be the case that there's something over the next year years, that people will see, oh, I thought that this policy would prevent somebody like me from voting that I would be perfectly capable of jumping over any kind of hoop, only to find themselves in the same in the same basket, as you know, those who were intentionally targeted.

Michael Berkman 42:46
I appreciate that, you know, the terrific interview that Jenna did with, with Carol Anderson that that draws out this this long history of efforts to make it more difficult for black people to vote in particular, but also speaks to a more more general effort to restrict suffrage, to restrict to votes to use voting rights strategically, rather than as a right that people really should just own in a democracy. I appreciate the opportunity to have met Carol Anderson and to have to have the opportunity to comment on Jenna's terrific interview with her. So on that note, I think we'll say I think we'll call it to an end. So for Democracy Works, I'm Michael Berkman.


Candis Watts Smith  43:39
And I'm Candis Watts Smith. Thanks for listening.