Last updated: February 17. 2013 8:18AM - 247 Views

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THOMAS Dartmouth Rice was an acclaimed actor in his day. A white entertainer in the 1830s he performed in several traveling minstrel shows that toured many of the 26 American states.

Rice developed his most popular character in blackface to belittle black Americans and pander to the prejudice of his audiences in pre-Civil War America. His blackface buffoon was named "Jim Crow."

So widely known and distasteful was the Rice portrayal of his theatrical clown that "Jim Crow" would come to describe a carefully choreographed system of state laws to, among other things, obstruct the right of freed Americans to vote. Jim Crow laws sprung up throughout the Southern "reconstructed" states from 1870 to 1964 when the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally were adopted.

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, states, "The right of U.S. citizens to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude."

The 15th proved inconvenient for Southern whites hoping to recoup through Jim Crow laws much of what was undone by the 13th and 14th amendments abolishing slavery and guaranteeing equal protection under the law to every American.

They considered the right to vote established by the 15th Amendment a minor setback to be neutered by poll taxes, literacy requirements and "grandfather" laws, cleverly designed to disenfranchise black Americans and many poor whites of non-English descent.

A poll tax to vote in Georgia, equal to $25 today, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court as late as 1937, which stated, "it was unrelated to any attempt to disenfranchise."

Literacy tests were made impossible for poor, uneducated Americans to navigate. And all were enacted, in straight face, to combat "voter fraud."

These laws disenfranchised tens of thousands of Americans while grandfather statutes permitted some illiterate whites to evade these obstructions if their father or grandfather had voted prior to 1868 – ratification of the 14th Amendment.

Legislation to disenfranchise voters is the ultimate voter fraud and it is as old as Jim Crow.

Following the incredibly close presidential election of 2000 and anticipating equally tight results in 2004, '08 and beyond, states seeming to have Republican legislatures and Republican governors with a pen began enacting restrictive state voter laws and some, such as Pennsylvania, even required voters to present a photo ID to be allowed to vote.

Pennsylvania accomplished this feat in May of this presidential-election year, making it almost impossible for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania voters – especially the poor, elderly, students, the disabled and others – to clear that hurdle by Nov. 6.

Supporters of the law (Act 18 of 2012) that would disenfranchise so many Pennsylvania voters justified their actions, in straight face, as necessary to combat voter fraud.

As we know, however, of all the imaginative ways to perpetrate voter fraud, showing up at the polls in person, pretending you are someone you're not, isn't one of them.

Stating the reason for erecting this voter ID obstruction in the path of honest Pennsylvanians, state House Majority Leader Michael Turzai, R-Allegheny County, while touting his accomplishments before a group of admirers in July, told us on tape what we already knew: "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done."

The despicable intent of Act 18 is a stain upon the commonwealth, and a state judge last week appropriately issued an injunction blocking its most onerous provisions from taking effect this year.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder this year opposed such attempts to disenfranchise voters in his state. He vetoed legislation that would have altered the state's flexible Voter ID law. Standing tall, Snyder issued his veto on the Fourth of July.

Rick Snyder is the governor of Michigan, home of Ferris State University and the university's Jim Crow Museum.

Kevin Blaum's column on government, life and politics appears every Sunday. Contact him at kblaum@timesleader.com.

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