Give Us the Ballot


Ubi bene ibi patria
Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman.

"Countless books have been written about the civil rights movement, but far less attention has been paid to what happened after the dramatic passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965 and the turbulent forces it unleashed. Give Us the Ballot tells this story for the first time.

In this groundbreaking narrative history, Ari Berman charts both the transformation of American democracy under the VRA and the counterrevolution that has sought to limit voting rights, from 1965 to the present day. The act enfranchised millions of Americans and is widely regarded as the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.

And yet, fifty years later, we are still fighting heated battles over race, representation, and political power, with lawmakers devising new strategies to keep minorities out of the voting booth and with the Supreme Court declaring a key part of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional.

Berman brings the struggle over voting rights to life through meticulous archival research, in-depth interviews with major figures in the debate, and incisive on-the-ground reporting. In vivid prose, he takes the reader from the demonstrations of the civil rights era to the halls of Congress to the chambers of the Supreme Court. At this important moment in history, Give Us the Ballot provides new insight into one of the most vital political and civil rights issues of our time."


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gee who did Johnson get to help pass the VRA of 1965 ....

Original bill

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was introduced in Congress on March 17, 1965 as S. 1564, and it was jointly sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) and Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL), both of whom had worked with Attorney General Katzenbach to draft the bill's language.[27] Although Democrats held two-thirds of the seats in both chambers of Congress after the 1964 Senate elections,[14]:49 Johnson worried that Southern Democrats would filibuster the legislation, as they had opposed other civil rights efforts. He enlisted Dirksen to help gain Republican support. Dirksen did not originally intend to support voting rights legislation so soon after supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he expressed willingness to accept "revolutionary" legislation after learning about the police violence against marchers in Selma on Bloody Sunday.[14]:95–96 Given Dirksen's key role in helping Katzenbach draft the legislation, it became known informally as the "Dirksenbach" bill.[14]:96 After Mansfield and Dirksen introduced the bill, 64 additional Senators agreed to cosponsor it.[14]:150

Mr. Berman does not dwell overlong on the success of the VRA, however, or on the increased willingness of whites to vote for black candidates—apparent nationally in 2008 and 2012 but also as long ago as 1972, when Andrew Young was elected to Congress in a majority-white district in Georgia. Much of “Give Us the Ballot” is devoted to Mr. Berman’s unpersuasive argument that we are witnessing a rollback of the Voting Rights Act similar to what happened in the South after Reconstruction. He laments recent state laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls and others reducing the number of days of early voting or barring convicted felons from voting. But these rules are plausibly directed at reducing vote fraud, and if evidence of such fraud is anecdotal, as Mr. Berman argues, so is the evidence he proffers that allowing “only” six forms of photo identification is an intolerable burden. It is absurd to say that such measures are the equivalent of the systematic and often violent means by which white Southerners used to bar blacks from voting before 1965.

Mr. Berman’s bitterest complaint is against the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision overturning the VRA’s Section 4, which had singled out for special treatment jurisdictions with low voter turnout in the 1964, 1968 and 1972 elections—voting results that have, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “no logical relationship to the present day.” Legislators’ inability to devise a plausible alternative formula is evidence that the Voting Rights Act helped change the South, and Section 2, addressing actual discrimination, remains fully in force. “Give Us the Ballot,” despite its author’s intentions, is more a story of past success than of present retrogression.