Purging the rolls

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One of the great questions that has hung over American elections since forever has been “who should be allowed to vote.”
All sorts of qualifications have been used to answer that.
Sex – don’t let women vote.
Age – gotta be 21. Oh, wait, make that 18.
Race – just white folks.
Affluence – own property.  Afford a poll tax.
Residence – gotta live here.
Registration – get your card.
Identification – lemma see your  picture ID.
The list goes on and on.
But there is one requirement on which everyone seems to agree.
You gotta be alive.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when my copy of The Clarke County Democrat arrived and in it was the 2016 County Voter’s List.
Recalling the story of one of the county’s prominent citizens protesting when his grandson’s name was removed from the list because he had moved – “but he still owns land here” – I checked to see if I might be listed, property holder that I am.
Did I find me? No.
But I found my Mother, who died in January, 2014.
Now I realize that purging the rolls takes time, but you would think two years would be enough to get the job done.
Of course, my Mother was well known in the community so if someone claiming to be her showed up to vote, they would not get very far.
My Mama was into voting.
So was my Daddy.
Though they did not always agree on candidates and issues, they knew where each other stood.
For example, Mama, granddaughter of a tee-totaling Methodist minister, voted against Big Jim Folsom because he drank.
Daddy, grandson of an old riverman who had his own personal bootlegger, voted for Big Jim for the same reason.
But I digress.
Keeping folks off the voting rolls can have serious repercussions.
Back in 1901, when the authors of Alabama’s crappy constitution were debating how best to  take the vote away  from black folks, a delegation of women arrived at the convention to voice their opposition.
Was this an indication of female solidarity with others who, like themselves, were denied the franchise? Not hardly.
The protest was the work of affluent white women who had been giving their black yardmen time off to go down and vote, so  long as they voted for the candidate their employer selected.  And given the fact that the secret ballot was not something to which white-male-Alabamians of the time paid attention, if the delegated voter didn’t do what he  was instructed to do, his employer would surely find him out – or at least he was led to believe so.
However, the protesting ladies argued, if the vote is taken away from black men, the vote would also be taken away from respectable white women.
Ergo (don’t you love it when I write  Latin?), the women told the men that if they take the vote away from black  men, the least they should do was give it to white women.
And the white-male-constitution writers settled the matter by giving it to neither.
While they were at it, these founding fathers of undemocratic Alabama, also made it difficult for poor white men to vote as well, which left Alabama in the hands of white men with property and who were alive.
But even that criteria – living – was reportedly bypassed if necessity demanded it.
The story is told of the time, during a ballot counting down in South Alabama, when it was discovered that a man who  had died the previous year had miraculously appeared at the polls and cast a ballot for the eventual winner.
Observers found this remarkable not because the dead voted, because the man in question had never shown any interest in politics and had never voted when he was alive.
Georgia, however, did us one better.
Back in the early 20th century, in an effort to add a touch of legality to the voting of the dead, the legislature of our eastern neighbor actually debated a bill that would make it possible for a husband or wife to cast the vote that their deceased spouse would have cast if they were not, you know, deceased.
The issue, however, was not letting the dead “vote,” but for how many years would it be possible for the living to  know how the dead would vote.
Well, I know that on the Big Jim issue at least, both Mama and Daddy would  have known how the other would have voted for, like, forever.  The question for them would be whether or not to cast that vote the way their loved one would have wanted.
Tough call.
I guess I should be relieved that they don’t have to decide.
However,  I would have loved to hear each try to convince the other to vote as they would.
That would  have been fun.
Harvey H. “Hardy” Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.

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