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Looking Back July 18

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

On Tuesday, registered voters have the freedom to go to the polls and cast their ballots in the 2010 primary election. It hasn't always been that way.

THE DISENFRANCHISED

* The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It was ratified on Feb. 3, 1870.

* At that time, African-Americans constituted a majority of the population in Mississippi, Louisiana and South Carolina, and represented more than 40 percent of the population in four other former Confederate states. Southern conservative whites resisted the freedmen's exercise of political power, fearing black domination.

* In the 1880s, white Southern legislators began devising statutes that created more barriers to voting by blacks and poor whites. The two most popular were poll taxes and literacy tests.

* By 1900, the majority of blacks had achieved literacy, but even many of the best-educated failed literacy tests administered by white registrars.

* In some northern and western states, and almost all Southern states, proof of having paid poll taxes was made a prerequisite to voting. The poll tax was sometimes used alone or together with a literacy qualification. Many states required payment of the poll tax at a time separate from the election and then required voters to bring receipts with them to the polls. If they could not locate such receipts, they could not vote.

* Around the turn of the 20th century, the Democratic Party in some Southern states began to treat its operations as a "private club" and insisted on white primaries, barring black and other minority voters who managed to get through other barriers. Since the Democratic Party was dominant, barring voters from the primaries meant they could not vote in the only competitive contest.

* It was on Aug. 6, 1965, slightly more than 100 years after the Civil War ended, that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This new law allowed for federal supervision of voter registration, federal approval of any changes in local voting laws and the prohibition of literacy tests.

* The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court banned the use of poll taxes in state elections. Poll taxes were already banned in federal elections (1964).

Sample questions from the 30-question literacy test administered in Georgia in 1958 (exactly as written):

* What is the definition of a felony in Georgia?

* Who is the Solicitor General of the State Judicial Circuit in which you live and who is the Judge of such circuit?

* What is treason against the State of Georgia?

* a) What does the Constitution of the United States provide regarding the suspension of the privilege of the writ of Habeas Corpus? b) What does the Constitution of Georgia provide regarding the suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus?

WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE

* The struggle for women's suffrage in America began in the 1820s with the writings of Fanny Wright. Wright not only advocated women being given the vote, but also the abolition of slavery, free secular education, birth control and more liberal divorce laws.

* In 1866 Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone helped establish the American Equal Rights Association. The following year, the organization became active in Kansas, where Negro suffrage and women's suffrage were to be decided by popular vote. Both ideas were rejected at the polls.

* The suffragists tended to concentrate their energies on trying to persuade state legislatures to submit to their voters amendments to state constitutions conferring full suffrage to women. Individual states gradually yielded to these demands. In 1893 women got the vote in Colorado, followed by Utah (1896), Idaho (1896), Washington (1910), California (1911), Arizona (1912), Kansas (1912), Oregon (1912), Illinois (1913), Nevada (1914) and Montana (1914).

* In January 1918, President Woodrow Wilson announced that women's suffrage was urgently needed as a "war measure." The House of Representatives passed the federal women's suffrage amendment 274 to 136, but it was opposed in the Senate and was defeated in September 1918. Another attempt in February 1919 also ended in failure.

* In May 1919, the House of Representatives again passed the amendment (304 to 89) and on June 4,1919, the Senate finally gave in and passed it by a vote of 66 to 30. On Aug. 26, 1920 the 19th Amendment was certified by the Secretary of State.

EVERY VOTE COUNTS

* One vote in each of two state congressional delegations crossing the party line gave Thomas Jefferson the presidency in 1800 after a tie in the Electoral College. Those individual votes together prevented Aaron Burr, later charged with treason, from becoming president.

* One vote gave women the right to vote in Tennessee, the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920.

* One vote per precinct in any three states would have made Hubert Humphrey president instead of Richard M. Nixon in 1968.

* Two mayoral races in the same county for the towns of Royston and Franklin Springs in north Georgia were decided by one vote each. The year was 2009.

* Closer to home, in Stewart County in 1988 a runoff election in the sheriff's race between Sheriff's Deputy Bill House and Lumpkin Police Chief Roosevelt Jackson ended in a tie, forcing a second runoff that Jackson won by nine votes. House challenged Jackson's qualifications to run and became sheriff when the state Supreme Court ruled Jackson had not met residency requirements. In 1993, House again defeated Jackson, this time by five votes after Jackson successfully challenged his eight-vote loss to House in 1992.

THE LIGHTER SIDE ... QUOTES ABOUT POLITICS

* Asking an incumbent member of Congress to vote for term limits is a bit like asking a chicken to vote for Colonel Sanders. -- Bob Inglis

* Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge where there is no river. -- Nikita Khrushchev

* A bureaucrat is a Democrat who holds some office that a Republican wants. -- Alben A. Barkley

* Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary. -- Robert Louis Stevenson

* In Mexico, an air conditioner is called a "politician," because it makes a lot of noise but doesn't work very well. -- Len Deighton

* If you liberals keep gettin' your way, we're all gonna hear one big loud flush. The sound of the U.S. of A. goin' straight down the toilet. -- Carroll O'Connor in the role of Archie Bunker

* An election is coming. Universal peace is declared and the foxes have a sincere interest in prolonging the lives of the poultry. -- T.S. Elliot

* Since a politician never believes what he says, he is quite surprised to be taken at his word. -- Charles de Gaulle

The top two reasons for not voting: "I was too busy" and "I forgot." Oh, really?