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Library notes: America’s record of voter suppression reminds us to use our right

By Stephanie Reister
Rowan Public Library

Consider yourself lucky to have the right to vote. A key element in America’s history has been suppressing the vote of minorities, women and the poor. Digging into the record of disenfranchisement should spur us to use our right and defend it for all citizens.

Stop by Rowan Public Library for books that cover the history of voting and the issues that still exist in our democratic process. RPL is now open to come in for browsing and curbside pick up is still available. Take advantage of your local democratic institution to learn more about a foundation of democracy.  Here are some books to look for.

“The Fight to Vote” by Michael Waldman provides a comprehensive look at voter suppression from the nation’s founding principles to today’s gerrymandering and impeding voter registration. Waldman proves throughout the book that money and power have been used to control elections. For example, in America’s early years only white male property owners could vote. While in the 1890s, poll taxes were first instituted in the South to prevent Black men from voting and at the same time disenfranchising poor white men.

In “The Women’s Suffrage Movement,” Sally Roesch Wagner compiles historical documents, including those from minority women and men who were marginalized during the movement. The documents show that while misogyny was at the heart of denying women the right to vote, racism divided the suffrage movement. Wagner advises, “We the people determine history by our choices … Individually, by our actions or our lack of action, we are part of determining the world our children’s children will inhabit.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the subject of Gary May’s “Bending Toward Justice.” He recalls the three years of the crusade for and the violence against the Civil Rights Movement that gave the defining push to voter equity for black Americans.

The Voting Rights Act expanded the federal government’s authority over voting, which made it illegal to deny the right to vote based on race or color. It also abolished state-mandated literacy tests and poll taxes. Eventually the Act included Native Americans, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives and people of Spanish heritage. May also informs us that there have been recent attempts to dismantle the Voting Rights Act by questioning its current relevance.

Stacey Abrams wrote “Our Time is Now” to shine a light on the more recent history of voter suppression. This includes incidents during her run for governor of Georgia in 2018. Abrams knowledge of the subject is based in personal and family experience, along with her research of past injustices. She believes fighting rules that support voter suppression will also lead to breaking down other forms of systemic racism.

“Let the People Pick the President” by Jesse Wegman addresses another major influence in elections — the Electoral College. He argues that it should be abolished because all but two states use a winner-take-all approach to awarding electoral votes. The Constitution only designates the number of electors for each state and does not define how states must assign them. Wegman asserts that eliminating the Electoral College would lead to more moderate politics and the inclusion of a broader population of voters.

RPL encourages all citizens to vote. The South Branch of the library in China Grove is one of five early voting sites. Go to www.rowancountync.gov/191/Elections or call 704-216-8140 for more information. Do not stand by as history happens. Use your right to vote.

Stephanie Reister is children’s librarian at the South Rowan Regional Library.

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