(Book Review) One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy

43A175CF-FB3B-4D76-83AB-8B72CB6A3405In One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy, Carol Anderson lays out the nefarious, and sometimes also mundane, ways that seemingly racially neutral justifications have been used to deny racial minorities their right to vote from the Jim Crow era to the present day. I was wearily angered by the techniques she describes and impressed by the clear, cogent manner in which she argues that what could appear to be accidental side effects of changes in election policy are really expressly designed to suppress minority voters: “They target the socioeconomic characteristics of people (poverty, lack of mobility, illiteracy, etc.) and then soak the new laws in ‘racially neutral justifications–such as administrative efficiency’ or ‘fiscal responsibility’–to cover the discriminatory intent” (2).

Using racially neutral justifications, but targeting characteristics such as socioeconomic status, location, or education that are meant to exclude minority voters. Some of the highlights of her extensive survey of voter suppression include discussing the history of these strategies overlapping with tensions with Russia, an overview of the Voter Rights Act (after its passage, black voter registration in Mississippi went from 10% in 1964 to 60% in 1968 (27)), and a detailed explanation of how Voter ID laws are used as a guise for voter suppression.

Coming to the present day, Anderson lays out how voter suppression worked in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, leading the Supreme Court to basically hand the election to George W. Bush even though Al Gore won the popular vote. She also analyzes the strategies of voter roll purges, gerrymandering (including a Supreme Court case out of Wisconsin) and a false narrative of voter fraud that work together to hide new efforts for voter suppression. “Voting is neither an obstacle nor a privilege. It’s a right,” she argues (148).

In her conclusion, Anderson looks at the resistance to this new-old voter suppression in the 2018 midterm election, particularly the grassroots resistance against Roy Moore in Alabama. First, she examines how social media campaigns in the 2016 general election were aimed at keeping black voters from participating at all (149). “As insidious as all this was, the Russians, frankly, piggypacking on the years of work done by the GOP to stigmatize, disfranchise, and suppress the votes of African Americans and other minorities,” she argues. “The Republicans as we’ve seen, have consistently claimed there is rampant voter fraud, especially in cities and states that have sizable minority communities. Thus, the suspicion thrown by the GOP on St. Louis and Miami-Dade County in the 2000 election is just as dastardly as the Russians conjuring up #VoterFraud in North Carolina and Broward County in 2016” (150-51).

I was especially frustrated with a story coming out of my native Indiana. Anderson explains that after Obama carried Indiana in 2008, the GOP-led state legislature passed laws aimed and undermining the weight of Marion County, home to Indianapolis and a sizable black and Democratic population. “Counties with at least 325,000 residents could not have more than one early voting site unless there was unanimous agreement from the bipartisan county election board. Buried in that sanitized language was pure, uncut racial animus. Only three of the ninety-two counties in the state have populations that exceed that threshold…and not surprisingly, 62 percent of the state’s African American population live in either Marion or Late Counties. Meanwhile, smaller (and whiter) counties are not held tot that same restriction…” (151)

Overall, Anderson makes a compelling and far-reaching argument for the extent that voter suppression continues to damage our democracy. Her research is easy to follow and insightfully presented. I definitely recommend this book for those interested in politics, voting rights, and Civil Rights history.


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