“The lie of massive, rampant voter fraud is serving the same function today as it did during the rise of Jim Crow. It stokes fear in a segment of the population that democracy is in peril, and thus provides cover for laws that target Black voters with race-neutral language in the 21st century.” — Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Meet Jimmy Crow.
You may remember Jimmy’s grandfather, Jim Crow. Jim sometimes wore a hood and a robe, and sometimes a sheriff’s badge. He administered incomprehensible “literacy tests” to Black citizens trying to register to vote. He clubbed John Lewis nearly to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The N-word flowed freely from Jim’s lips.
You may remember Jimmy’s father, James Crow, Esquire. James wore a suit and a tie instead of a robe and hood. He drew gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts to dilute the power of the Black vote. James would never utter the N-word — at least not in public. Instead, he would winkingly refer to “states’ rights” and “welfare queens.”
Jimmy Crow wears a golf shirt and khaki pants. He carries a tiki torch in place of a burning cross. Jimmy’s not content with suppressing and diluting the Black vote; he wants the power to ignore election results altogether if he doesn’t like the outcome. He fiercely guards the symbols of white supremacy his grandfather erected on town squares and courthouse grounds to intimidate Black Americans. He rants about “replacement theory” and “the purity of the ballot box.”
Like his grandfather, Jimmy Crow is not just willing but eager to use violence to enforce his white supremacist ideology. After neo-Nazi sympathizer James Alex Fields Jr. killed counterprotester Heather Heyer by driving his car into a crowd at the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, at least six states proposed laws to protect drivers who emulate Fields. In a single month last year, at least 72 drivers rammed their cars into protesters in 52 different cities.
Insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 assaulted about 140 police officers, bashing their heads, shoving them down stairs, stabbing them with metal poles and blasting them with pepper spray.
Jimmy Crow is unrepentant for this revolting brutality, or for the racist lies that provoked it. Just hours after their colleagues’ lives were threatened and rioters openly called for Vice President Pence to be hanged, 147 members of Congress voted to overturn the results of a free and fair presidential election.
Jimmy Crow doesn’t hide his conviction that the votes of Black and brown Americans should not necessarily be counted. Dozens of lawsuits challenging the election results sought to invalidate votes in communities of color, particularly African American communities. In Michigan, the challenges focused on Detroit, where nearly 80% of the population is Black. In Wisconsin, it was Milwaukee County, home to the state’s largest percentage of voters of color. Philadelphia, another target, is 58% Black and Latino.
If Jimmy Crow doesn’t succeed in canceling the Black and brown votes, he thinks he should be able to disregard the results of an election entirely. An Arizona state lawmaker has proposed that the legislature decide who wins the state’s electoral votes, regardless of the popular vote.
In 1964 and 1965, the nation triumphed over Jim Crow by enacting the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. We dealt a blow to James Crow, Esq., in the 2008 presidential election, when the Black voting rate exceeded the white rate for the first time in U.S. history — and repeated the feat in 2012.
To fight their descendant Jimmy Crow, Congress must pass, and President Biden must sign the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and The For the People Act. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, struck down in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder, that required federal approval for any changes to voting laws in jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression. Among the For The People Act’s sweeping provisions, it eliminates racially motivated voter-suppression tactics like cumbersome voter registration requirements, strict ID requirements, limited voting hours and restrictions on voting by mail. It bans deceptive practices and voter intimidation. And it bans the partisan gerrymandering that dilutes the political influence of communities of color.
As former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testified to a Senate Committee in support of the bill, “Now is the time for Congress to exercise its constitutional authority to protect the structure of our representative democracy. Otherwise, we will slip deeper into a system in which self-interested politicians use the tools of governance to keep themselves in power with no regard for the desires of the people they are supposed to represent.”
Morial is president/CEO of the National Urban League.