What were Jim Crow era legal restrictions on blacks voting? Does GA’s new election law reflect these restrictions?

The restrictions varied a bit depending on the southern state, but these were the main restrictions.

  1. Literacy tests—a potential voter had to be able to read and interpret the Constitution (or some other document).  The key word here was “interpret”.  The election judges were always white males and not at all inclined to let a black pass the test.
  2. Poll taxes—in order to vote a potential voter had to pay $25 to $35 depending on the Jim Crow law. Very few blacks; but also a significant number of poor whites had that much cash.
  3. Grandfather clauses—a potential voter could not vote if his father or grandfather could not vote prior to 1867.  Needless to say slaves could not vote and after the 13th amendment passed to end slavery in 1865, very few new freedmen could vote prior to 1867.
  4. Felony disenfranchisement.  The documentary Slavery By Another Name shows that blacks were often arrested for minor offenses but were legally felonies; and had to work it off in chain gangs.  Once convicted, they were ineligible to vote.  A commonly used “crime” was vagrancy where an adult had to prove that one had a job.  If the person stopped by the sheriff could not prove it, he would be arrested for vagrancy which was a felony and he had to work it off.  This was used to keep blacks from running away to another county or state to get away from sharecropping which amounted to debt peonage.  If a black person ran away, the sheriff would know soon he was new and would ask him for proof of employment.
  5. Property tests—where a potential voter had to own property to be able to vote.  Sharecroppers did not own property.  90% of all blacks were sharecroppers.
  6. All white primaries.  In the Democratic party controlled south, a potential voter had to be white to vote in their state’s Democratic primary.  Republicans had no chance of being elected in the solid Dem South so their primaries were meaningless.
  7. Voter purges.  Periodically the election officials purged the voting rolls of anyone remotely suspected of being black.
  8. Violence.  If you were black and attempted to vote, you faced death or torture or at least a cross burning in your front yard.  Lynchings were common. 


Is there anything in the Ga law like any of these restrictions?  The answer is no.  For the history of segregation in GA please see: https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/segregation

So, what is the problem?  If GA had voted for Trump, then there would not have been a call for a new election law.  Trump undermined faith in the voting system by alleging fraud but none of his many lawsuits were able to prove that in court.  Further, in GA, the recounts verified that Trump had lost the election. Still, he continued to be a sore loser.  Trump put GOP politicians in the miserable position of having to address “voter integrity” though there was not any proof of a lack of voter integrity.  The GOP seemed to panic because the state has been trending Democratic. They likely acted out of desperation to stay in power; and, to avoid Trump’s nasty accusations. That is reprehensible but that does not mean they engaged in real Jim Crow legislation.  GA is not remotely in reach of carrying out any of the above noted restrictions. And, the GA GOP could legitimately argue that the absentee ballot system needed to be improved.

But, GA did strip its election officials of all power to run the elections.  Their Sec of State’s authority was taken away and awarded to a politically appointed State Election Board. That was uncalled for.  That is the real problem with their law, not a reversion to Jim Crow.  The law was passed BECAUSE Trump was not elected in GA.  He personally attacked the state’s governor, legislature, and its Sec of State for not doing his will.  That was icky and was totally unjustified.  The Governor and the legislature then dreamed up this law to ensure voter integrity without any evidence that it was needed.

Blacks understandably felt this attempt to preserve GOP power was Jim Crowish.  No black representatives in the legislature voted for this act.  Yet, as noted above, it is highly unlikely that the GA legislature acted out of a desire to reimpose Jim Crow.  The law is a mixed bag that included some legit improvements as well as some that are not. 

Attack the law for what it did and not for what it did not do.  The law did not include one single feature of the bad old Jim Crow laws.