Featured Post

New book available! David Kaiser, A Life in History

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published my autobiography as an historian,  A Life in History.   Long-time readers who want to find out how th...

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Voting again

The nation faces yet another round in its intermittent, historic split over voting rights.  Having lost a pretty close election in the electoral college because of high turnout and close counts in Arizona, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the Republicans who control the state legislatures in all those states--and those in a good many other states besides--are trying to make sure that the same thing does not happen again.  Let us be frank: in no state, including Georgia, do new laws make it impossible for anyone to vote.  They do make it more difficult,. which is wrong, but there is nothing in them, in my opinion, which a determined, well-organized campaign could not overcome.  They still represent a big step backward for our democracy and another desperate attempt by the minority Republican Party to cling to power.  President Biden and the Democratic Party in Washington have declared war on these new laws and are trying to pass a new federal law that would in effect invalidate a great many of them.  Let me put one thing on the table right away:  such a law is clearly constitutional.  The Constitution states, "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations."  That is what they are trying to do. They are also enlisting the support of corporate America, led so far by Major League Baseball, to pressure Georgia and other states to abandon these laws.  I think this may lead to a larger secession movement in some red states.  The nation is ripe for it, and it would provide an appropriate climax, perhaps, to our fourth great political crisis.

Meanwhile, however, I would like once again to offer something different to the whole historical question rights in the United States.  Every commentator presents it as exclusively a racial question, involving the preservation of white supremacy.  That it undoubtedly was, from the time of Reconstruction until at least 1965, and I certainly agree that there is a racial aspect to what is going on around the country today.  But that was not all it was, and I have finally taken the trouble to put together the data necessary to prove that.

Voting since Reconstruction has been a battleground.  While Andrew Johnson wanted to allow states to disenfranchise black people, the Republicans who controlled Congress wanted to elect Republican governments in the southern states.  They could not do that simply by guaranteeing the vote to freed slaves, because only in Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina were blacks a majority of the population.  They thus arranged for the initial Reconstruction governments to have the right to disenfranchise white voters who had supported the great rebellion and refused to swear a new oath of allegiance.  That allowed them to elect Republican state governments almost all over the South and i the border states, but they did not last more than a few years, as the restrictions on white voting were overturned.  They lasted the longest, for obvious reasons, in Louisiana and South Carolina, but there, as in Mississippi, the terror of the KKK began to keep black voters away from the polls. The Democratic Party was fully in control of the southern state governments, with very rare exceptions--and also in the border states--by 1884 or so, without major legal restrictions on voting.  

The Populist movement in the South, which brought together poor white and black voters for a while, frightened the white South into stronger action.  Grandfather clauses and literacy tests disenfranchised nearly all black voters in most of the South beginning in the 1890s.  That, however, was not all.  Those laws evidently were also applied fairly strictly against many poor and uneducated whites as well.  The white turnout, as well as the black one, remained very low in most of the South through the first 2/3 of the twentieth century.  I first noticed this studying election results in the World Almanac in the 1960s. Now I have been able to put together the data to prove it--and it will open quite a few eyes.

Using Wikipedia's excellent articles on presidential elections and combining it with census data, I have computed turnout, as a function of the whole population, in every one of the 50 states in 1960.  It would be possible to get comparable data merely for the voting age population but that would require far more time than I can allot to this project now, and I don't think it would be significantly more accurate for my purposes today, since the whole country in 1960 was awash in children.  The results are astonishing. With the interesting exceptions of Alaska and Hawaii (who were voting for president for the first time, Arizona and New Mexico, and Oklahoma, every state that was not a slave state in 1860 had a turn out of from 42 per cent to 49 per cent of its total population.  (New Hampshire led the way with 49 per cent, with Massachusetts close behind.)  Doing a quick calculation that may come in handy later, I find that nationwide, 61% of the over-19 population--the best approximation I can get to the voting age of 21--cast ballots in 1960. 

The former slave states lived in a different world.  25 percent of Alabama's total population cast votes in 1960; 24 per cent of Arkansas; per cent of Florida's; just 19 per cent of Georgia's; 37 per cent of Louisiana's; 14 per cent of Mississippi's, the lowest figure in the nation; 30 per cent of North Carolina's; 16 per cent of South Carolina's; 29 per cent in Tennessee, 24 per cent in Texas, and just 19% in Virginia.  In neither Maryland nor Kentucky did 40 per cent of the population cast votes either.  

Now on the one hand, almost none of the black population could vote in states like Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama, and large portions of blacks could not vote in other states.  Yet disenfranchisement severely affected many white populations as well.  Let us recall once again that in most of the country, about 45 per cent of the whole population cast votes.  Let's look now at the percentage of the white population that cast votes in the old Confederacy.  Florida, remarkably, had what seems to be a higher-than-average turnout among whites, at 55 per cent of their total population--perhaps in part because that population was unusually old.  But the total vote as a percentage of the white population was 25 per cent in Alabama, 26 per cent in Georgia, 37 per cent in Louisiana, 24 per cent in Mississippi, a full 40 per cent in North Carolina, just 25 per cent in South Carolina, 29 per cent in Texas, and 25 per cent in Virginia.  In other words, while 480,000 out of every million white people in Massachusetts cast votes, less than 260,000 of every million white people in Georgia did (allowing for a significant black vote in Atlanta, even then.) 

Sitting in on hearings on the great Kennedy civil rights bill in the summer of 1963, I more than one white southern witness explain that back home, they didn't regard voting as a right, but as a privilege.  I don't know exactly how so many whites were kept away from the polls as late as 1960, but the figures show that many thousands of them didn't enjoy that privilege either.  Class obviously played a huge role in who voted, as well as race.  And it may still.  The turnout as a percentage of voting age population in the various states for 2020 also showed important regional variations. The national average for the whole country was exactly 66.7%.  The top ten states were Minnesota (80 per cent), Colorado, Maine, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont and Michigan (73.9 percent.)  Every one of them voted for Biden. The bottom ten were Alabama (63.1 per cent), Indiana, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, Hawaii, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.  All but two of them voted for Trump, most of them by huge margins.

Even if the new Republican regulations survive, they will not restore the situation of 1960.  I often wonder, as I mentioned here many years ago, whether some Republican legislature will introduce a property qualification for voting--something which is in no way forbidden by the original constitution or any subsequent amendment.  Perhaps we can do more to preserve voting rights if we recognize that this problem--like so many others we face--has never been simply a matter of race.

7 comments:

Bozon said...

Professor

Very interesting post. Thanks for posting it.
Both Republicans and Democrats have always tried to arrange voting to serve their party rather than American citizens in general.

Here are a few notes re old Republican voting ways, and old Democratic disenfranchisement:

"A riot broke out in New Orleans (July 30, 1866) because of a Radical (Republican) effort to force negro suffrage upon the state by political methods considered irregular and unconstitutional. Local police battled with members of a Radical (Republican) convention; 'a party of two hundred negroes with firearms, clubs and knives' became involved; and as a result, according to the report of General Sheridan in command of the military department, about 40 whites and blacks were thus killed and about 160 wounded." (fn1 Sherican to Grant, Aug. 1, 1866, Ann. Cyc., 1866, 456), quoted from J. G Randall, The Civil war and Reconstruction, p. 745. See generally Ch XXXIII. By 1868 the majority of white citizens, North and South, were now Democrats. Ch XXXV, p. 798. Re Radical Republican negro suffrage nationalization initiatives, see p. 799. See also Documentary History of Reconstruction, V I, II.

All the best

Energyflow said...

Did you study the new law exactly? From reading articles critical of democrats I take it that showing identification and coming in person is important to republicans as printing one's own ballot and sending it in from somewhere or other or dropping it off unsupervised in a box could allow election manipulation. Where I live we go to a central location, stand in line, show an i.d. and are handed a list which we fill out in a curtained booth and hand back for later tallying. I see nothing wrong with this old system. If democrats want to change this by internet voting anonymously or some other uncontrolled process which is completely manipulable while refusing the whole time to admit their aims, all the while screaming about the spanish inquisition or stalin' s gulags not allowing freedom of thought I suggest to you that this is a bait and switch con. I could set up a printer/ computer and prefill enough ballots for key precincts in swing states just waiting for the moment in the middle of the night when we know how many votes are needed to tip the election. Calling judges, anyone else questioning this process a racist suffices to shut them up due to social shaming. To the rest of the civilized and even uncivilized and cynical world with dictatorships this is all too transparent. Here where I live in Germany when one moves into a house or apartment one registers with the authorities. If one is qualified according to age and nationality then one is on the electoral list and receives a notification a couple of weeks in advance with a sample election list to study and a tear off card attached allowing entry to the election area with one's i.d. I do not see how this is so difficult. Universal adult suffrage is not quantum physics. People don' t register in America when they move. Identification is a driver' s licence which maybe some don't have. Maybe some adults are noncitizens without status. If people can be required to register weapon purchase then residency and change of residency registration can be rquired as well ( along with all family members with citizenship and date of birth). This is then the election roll. A govt. i.d. could be for free and required for all citizens as in Europe. There you have the problems solved of electoral roll and i.d. America is a miracle of confusion over nothing at all. Or do you think I have missed something fundamental here? We hold all elections on Sundays and most everything is legally closed here so everyone has time off to vote. One could make it a legal requirement to vote in person for example ( 100% voter participation, rounding up shirkers as my Russian wife recalls from Soviet times). You will probably counter something about mail in balloting in Europe being possible but obviously under very strict requirements. Or perhaps as a banana republic, the U.N. needs to come in and supervise all elections and impose normal civilized rules. Or is only the USA allowed to do this on conquered territories in Europe and Asia while ignoring foreign criticism of antiquated systems? I imagine there are enough books and articles on ballot stuffing and election manipulation from India, Latin America, Arab countries, Europe for comparison. I am amazed at the voter suppression in the South. A privilege indeed! At housing inflation costs your suggestion could eliminate most potential voters and house flippers might vote ten times. A period of residency proven of six months to a year might suffice however.

Bozon said...

Professor
Perhaps another note, on themes I have struck in the past.

In the rapidly developing clash of civilizations envisioned by Huntington, race differences between civilizations has already emerged as a huge, and even developing, theme for all of them and for each within its national and civilizational boundaries.

This situation, sheperded ideologically by white West penetration since the 18th Century, has now exploded and backfired most tellingly on the West itself, which had tried, alone, to deny the importance and centrality of racial differences between civilizations in the first place.

Against this background, US liberal denial of the significance of racial differences is seen by other cultures as tantamount to denial of civilizational differences as well, which in fact it truly is.

Seen from this height, US promotion of multiculturalism, and uniculturalism, fusion if you will, cuts against US single issue politics' acknowledgment of ethnicity and respect for differences and ethnic and racial self determination.

Nothing is more confused here than the issue of negro slavery against the background of global slavery throughout history.

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor
Voting never did either whites or negroes much good, really, big picture.

Here's your passage. It seems you can't figure it out. Who can blame you?

"...The former slave states lived in a different world. 25 percent of Alabama's total population cast votes in 1960; 24 per cent of Arkansas; per cent of Florida's; just 19 per cent of Georgia's; 37 per cent of Louisiana's; 14 per cent of Mississippi's, the lowest figure in the nation; 30 per cent of North Carolina's; 16 per cent of South Carolina's; 29 per cent in Tennessee, 24 per cent in Texas, and just 19% in Virginia. In neither Maryland nor Kentucky did 40 per cent of the population cast votes either.

"Now on the one hand, almost none of the black population could vote in states like Mississippi, South Carolina, and Alabama, and large portions of blacks could not vote in other states. Yet disenfranchisement severely affected many white populations as well. Let us recall once again that in most of the country, about 45 per cent of the whole population cast votes. Let's look now at the percentage of the white population that cast votes in the old Confederacy. Florida, remarkably, had what seems to be a higher-than-average turnout among whites, at 55 per cent of their total population--perhaps in part because that population was unusually old. But the total vote as a percentage of the white population was 25 per cent in Alabama, 26 per cent in Georgia, 37 per cent in Louisiana, 24 per cent in Mississippi, a full 40 per cent in North Carolina, just 25 per cent in South Carolina, 29 per cent in Texas, and 25 per cent in Virginia. In other words, while 480,000 out of every million white people in Massachusetts cast votes, less than 260,000 of every million white people in Georgia did (allowing for a significant black vote in Atlanta, even then.)..." DK

The locus classicus of how voters got screwed, racially, was not at all the white South, but rather the Northern whites voting for Lincoln.
They really got screwed and betrayed big time by the New Republicans.

All the best

Eric Rollins said...

Hmmmm...there seems to be a lot of comments being made and laws being passed(!) based on the assumption that the increased mail-in or drop-box voting in 2020 was a tactic used to beat Trump, and regionally in Georgia to end the Senate Republican majority, by activists that found an end-around for potential low turnout of likely-Democratic voters. The truth is that the increase in non in-person voting in 2020 was because of the PANDEMIC!!!

When the pandemic is over, the majority of people that voted by mail or dropped off their ballot will be fine with going back to the high school gymnasium once a year to fill out a document. It's easier to vote in person than through mail or by drop off ballot. Myself, I enjoy the buzz of the in-person voting experience. I didn't in 2020 because of the...HORRIBLE INFECTIOUS ILLNESS the public was invisibly and unwittingly passing to one to another at that time. I have a hunch that the increase in turnout in 2020 did not have ALL to do with the comparatively expanded number of voting options compared to 2016.

The ability to vote by mail or to drop off a ballot in 2020 will not historically be seen as a valid explanation for the outcome (higher turnout overall, swing state surprises) being different than expectations.

The Republican efforts in the state legislatures will be laughable non-factors in the future. In-person voting rates will return to normal in 2022 and 2024. Who people vote for, if at all, will NOT be a factor of if in-person voting is too difficult, but effective mobilization around salient issues and the ability to rouse concern - those old hats, simple as that.

I would guess that the low turnout rates in southern state in 1960 were not because of a physical inability to get to a polling place to cast a ballot - but for non-physical pressures like indifference, fatalism, apathy, being uninformed, a local culture and regional history of not voting, etc.

Energyflow...wow. I moved to a new town in 2019. I immediately had to respond to a mailing from my local municipal administrative offices (who label envelopes with threatening bright letters on the cover) filling out my "enter the town census form" that removed me from the voting list in my old town and added me to the voting list in my new town. Believe it or not, we do take some pride in being able to tell friends, neighbors, relatives, that I am enrolled to vote...and the only way to vote is to be signed up with the town AND the state. There is no such thing as printing a ballot from home or submitting a ballot online. You get mailed the ballot - which has about as many watermarks on it as a $100 bill (i.e. can't make fakes), and the people who work in our local town offices that process voting ballots take it about as seriously as your first grade teacher took the spelling bee rules (i.e. very seriously). What you have heard about how elections work here is far from reality. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and I will assume this is because the details of actual voting practices in the US are boring and have few likes (and therefore unlikely for you to see) and sensationalist slanted vague nonsense is much easier to find and eye-catching. You know, just like everything else.

Bozon said...

Professor
Re voting again...

Here's an analogy:
Biden's court packing is like Republicans marching negroes around polling stations in "Reconstruction".

All the best

Bozon said...

Professor

I thought this was of some interest, re Georgia, baseball and Coke, Woke-A-Cola.
Lisa Lerer, one of my least favorite pundits, calling out Republicans for Cancel Culture Capitalism

She asks quite disingenuously: What is cancelling, and who is cancelling who or what? Her menu today involves only Republicans.....conservatives spend a lot of time denouncing “cancel culture”— arguing that there should be little societal cost for unfettered free speech.

Your posts had focussed on left postmodern cancellation, and Brooks came out in the letter cited below against left cancel culture.

"...This heritage is threatened now on both sides of the political spectrum. Nearly 20 years ago, a high official of the George W. Bush Administration--generally thought to have been Karl Rove--placed that administration in opposition to what he called the "reality-based community." "We're an empire now," he said, "and we create our own reality." Now our president recreates reality to satisfy his own unconscious several times a day, and his whole staff and an entire television network bow, scrape, salute, and go forth to preach the new gospel. Yet things are not that much better on the other side of the political fence. I want to illustrate this by discussing two letters that were published this past week...." DK

Why not see the issues more in the round, against Lerer's diatribal rant?

All the best

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Changing Culture and its Consequences

Saturday, July 11, 2020
Postmodernism in the mainstream