Former vice president Joe Biden told voters in South Carolina last weekend that the Trump administration is allowing the United States to return to the days of Jim Crow, a time when it was legal to deny black Americans the right to vote because of their race.
The administration does not appear to be overtly denying people of color the right to vote — it is illegal to discriminate based on race. But some recent changes in voting laws led by those in the president’s party appear to be having effects that mirror that period of legalized discrimination.
Biden made the speech Saturday at a community center in Columbia, the capital city of South Carolina, home of the first Southern Democratic primary. The state is notable because of the significant role that black voters play in the Democratic nominating process. The Associated Press reported him saying:
In criticizing Republican attempts to reconfigure voting rules, including establishing identification requirements, Biden recalled the racial segregation laws of the past known as Jim Crow.
“You’ve got Jim Crow sneaking back in,” he said, and added: “You know what happens when you have an equal right to vote? They lose.”
Voter suppression has been a central topic for liberal lawmakers at least since the 2013 Supreme Court decision ending the use of a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Conservatives on the bench concluded that the section of the act requiring certain states — including South Carolina — to receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court before making minor changes to their voting procedures was unconstitutional.
Conservative justices argued that an increase in voters of color over the past 40 years proved that voter suppression had decreased and that Southern states no longer needed to be monitored to make sure that they weren’t discriminating against people of color. As a result, since then multiple southern states have implemented new laws that liberals say are designed to make it more difficult for people to vote. Liberals say that the latest high-profile example of that was the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.
In her speech Sunday at a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dinner, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who is running for the Democratic nomination, said:
“Let’s say this loud and clear: Without voter suppression, Stacey Abrams would be the governor of Georgia, Andrew Gillum is the governor of Florida.”
I previously wrote about how Abrams, the Democratic candidate, narrowly lost her race to become America’s first black female governor. Her opponent, Republican Brian Kemp, was Georgia’s secretary of state and had oversight of Georgia’s voting laws. In that capacity, he put about 53,000 applications to vote in the 2018 midterms on hold, many of them belonging to people of color. Many, like Harris, believe that the “exact match” law Georgia Republicans passed in 2017 was aimed at making it more difficult for people of color to vote. I wrote about how laws like this have affected voters of color:
“The problem of unfair elections goes way beyond Georgia. A 2018 poll by the Atlantic and Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly 10 percent of black and Hispanic voters were told they didn’t have the right identification to vote in 2016. About the same percent said they were told, incorrectly, that they weren’t listed on voter rolls.
"In all, across just about every issue identified as a common barrier to voting, black and Hispanic respondents were twice as likely, or more, to have experienced those barriers as white respondents,” the study found.
Some conservatives bristled at Biden’s characterization of the state of voting rights in the South and argued that his claims would alienate the white working-class voters he’s hoping to take from President Trump.
But whether conservatives, including Trump-supporting white working-class voters, like it or not, many people of color are facing more challenges to voting than they did a decade ago. And a candidate who acknowledges the concerns of these groups might lose some of the voters who backed Trump in 2016 but will be attractive to those who fear that Republicans remaining in power could lead to even more restrictive laws reminiscent of a time past.