OPINION: Watson’s Voting Views: Dressing Jim Crow Up in New Clothes

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On May 18, Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson issued a statement on voting in the November election. He begins sensibly saying, “we do not believe voters should have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their own health.” But those rational sentiments are quickly and completely overwhelmed by the delusional claim that his biggest job is to protect against the red herring of voter fraud.

By far the most disturbing language is his proclamation that limiting voting will uphold “Mississippi’s steadfast conservative values.” In the shadow of Mississippi’s incredibly fraught history with voting, Watson rails against the bogeyman of potential voter fraud with the clear intent to keep minorities from voting.

The state has a long and shameful history of black voter disenfranchisement. During Jim Crow, it used poll taxes and “literacy tests” to deny the right to vote to black Mississippians. Some Mississippians used, and far too many more condoned, violence and terror to keep black Mississipians from even attempting to vote. Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, Andrew Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and so many others were murdered for trying to register people to vote.

After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, insidious tactics arose like placing police vehicles in front of mainly black precincts. Poll watchers threatened black Misissippians going to vote that they could be arrested if their voter registration was not exactly right—if their name was misspelled or if they were not at the correct precinct. Poll watchers determined to keep people from participating in our democracy would lie to voters, making up requirements to scare them away from exercising this precious right.

Are these the “conservative Mississippi values” Watson wants to uphold?

The modern version of voter suppression is the photo I.D. requirement that many Republican legislatures and governors have championed as a way to

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