One of the nation’s most prominent black business leaders said Monday on Charlie Rose that Republican efforts to restrict voting laws are racially motivated.
“Absolutely,” said Vernon Jordan, a senior managing partner of the investment banking firm Lazard Freres, “and some of these Republicans have actually said that.”
Almost two dozen states have passed voting restrictions in recent years, the vast majority of them through Republican-controlled legislatures. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, seven of the 11 states with the highest black turnout in 2008 have new restrictions. And of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, nine have passed restrictive voting laws.
The comments by Jordan, a Democrat, followed others over the weekend by Republican former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who warned of a “dark vein” of intolerance in the Republican Party. Although Voter ID laws have been justified as an effort to combat voter fraud, there is little to no evidence of in-person voter fraud in U.S. elections.
Jordan recalled his introduction to politics as a boy in Georgia when segregationist Eugene Talmadge was the state’s Democratic governor: “Talmadge comes on the radio and I’m sitting in the first public housing project for black people in Atlanta with my father listening to WSB radio and he said: ‘This is your governor, Eugene Talmadge. I’m running for reelection. I have two planks in my platform: niggers and roads. I’m against the first and I’m for the second.’”
In the 1960s, Jordan led the Voter Education Project, which registered voters in the South. He was president of the National Urban League from 1971 to 1981. Last weekend’s 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, which had been a catalyst for the 1965 Voting Rights Act, marked black progress, Jordan said, but it also reminded the nation of unfinished business.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Jordan, who remains an optimist, “but there’s still a journey to go.”
In addition to new obstacles to voting, the recent Justice Department report on racial disparities and bigotry in Ferguson, Missouri, underscores that big problems persist.
“There are many, many more Edmund Pettus Bridges,” Jordan said, “and they’re not all in the South.”
Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg columnist.