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Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
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Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  1,540 ratings  ·  283 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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 ·  1,540 ratings  ·  283 reviews

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Start your review of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America
This is one of those books that I have no idea how to review, but there will probably be... colorful language. Just sayin'. It was so good, so informative and interesting and maddening and frustrating and outrageous and nauseating and disheartening and hopeful and encouraging and inspiring that I just want to brandish it in peoples' faces at the bookstore or play it subliminally everywhere I go or leave copies in random places in the outside where people might pick it up or buy it in bulk as gif ...more
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, history
If you weren’t already in complete despair after reading Dark Money, this should finish the job. Detailed history of Republican actions since the early nineties to restrict voting rights, and the conservative Supreme Court’s support for those changes.

The first half of the book is encouraging, as it details the creation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. John Lewis is a central and continuing character. This is one area where LBJ shines, despite first saying the VRA wasn’t in the cards right now.
Aug 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent description of the history of the Voting Rights Act and the profound threats facing the rights for all eligible citizens to vote. While it can be a depressing read, especially if the reader lived through the civil and voting rights battles of the 1960s, this is a book that demands reading as the movement to restrict voting rights continues to gain momentum. I recommend it highly.
Oct 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Should be mandatory reading for everyone in advance of voting this election cycle.
Scott Rhee
Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, realizing that true democracy was both unrealistic and unworkable, chose as the model of our government a republic, whereby power resides in elected representatives given authority by the citizenry that elected them. Under this model of government, the most vital and important tool is the Vote.

History is awash in the blood of patriots who have fought and died for the Vote, and yet, today, sixteen years into the 21st century, forces are continually at work t
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub
This book is about the Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965 to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. The VRA was amended in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006. While the original intention of the Act was to ensure minorities would be able to register AND vote in elections, it has been manipulated by politicians (and lawyers), resulting in rules and regulations that left many people unable to vote in recent elections. Ari Berman provides a historical look at the VRA, from the Civil Rights movement and t ...more
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
After the President-Elect's comments about voter fraud, I can think of few issues more important for all citizens to understand. This book is essential reading for those concerned about voting rights.
Jan 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is an onslaught. Berman, in meticulous detail, walks the reader through the history of the fight surrounding voting rights in modern times. From the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 up through the present day, he follows the ups and downs of the movement to secure the rights supposedly guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. I think this book will make you angry…real angry. But it might leave you with hope too. And it certainly will give you story after story of ...more
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well. This was timely and depressing. Voter suppression is foul and should be repudiated by both parties.
Jul 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I heard this journalist author on NPR's "Fresh Air" 3 days
ago. Berman indicated that after the US entered WW2, the
IRS shared contact info with US Immigration which resulted
in thousands of Japanese-Americans being placed in US
prison camps. Even though the Japanese attacked Pearl
Harbor this didn't make all Americans of Japanese heritage

The author stated the courts struck down 'old-style' US
voter suppression of black Americans via a poll tax or
literacy test (neither required of w
Apr 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very well researched book on the recent history of voter suppression. It begins with the passage of the Voter Rights Act in 1965 and continues up until the Obama administration.

Many of the stories of voter suppression of blacks in the South are disgusting. Remedies were proposed and often were supported by both parties. Somewhere along the line, Republicans realized that with changing demographics, they couldn't win elections without cheating. Assaults on the VRA followed, along with gerrymander
Jul 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So. many. highlights. An exhaustive (but not entirely exhausting) review of voting rights in America. Berman covers the struggles, the triumphs, and the utter frustration as successive administrations build momentum to curtail voting rights starting with the Reagan administration and ultimately striking down Section 5 of the VRA in 2013.

Berman sprinkles some choice hyperbole throughout, like personal favorites: "Von Spakovsky's unusual name, which sounded like a nineteenth-century Austrian vill
Sep 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Berman says that the 1965 Voting Rights Amendment spawned an equally committed group of counterrevolutionaries. Since the V.R.A.’s passage, they have waged a decades-long campaign to restrict voting right. Berman argues that these counterrevolutionaries have in recent years controlled a majority on the Supreme Court and have set their sights on undoing the accomplishment of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Berman explores how the debate over voting rights for the past 50 years has been a debate b
Ian Rose
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is not an easy read, either in terms of length or content. It's more of a textbook than a thriller, but it's exactly the textbook I wanted on the modern history of the right to vote and of the sustained attack on that right. If I could send one book right now to everyone I know with any political interest, this would be the one.
Mary Anne
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: on-racism, clean-tbr
I’ve been interested in the subject of voter rights for a while, and this book is now a mainstay in my education on the subject. Of course, the roots of many of the problems began during the Jim Crow era, when laws were enforced to ensure the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and lasted until the Civil Rights movement got going in the 1950s. Our esteemed Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution so that only land-holding white men had the vote. Anderson does a fantastic job of walking the reader throu ...more
Jennifer Mangler
Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I thought I had a handle on this topic, but I was so wrong. There was so much I didn't know. There was so much that made me so much angrier than I already was, which I didn't think was possible. I would encourage everyone to read this. We all need to be a lot more aware about our rights and the many ways they are being chipped away at, bit by bit.
Sep 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately tedious read on a subject people don't know about. With the Voting Rights Act under fire and constant stories of electoral fraud (voters, machine glitches, lines cut off, names incorrect on ballot sheets, etc.), voting and the struggle to increase its accessibility has been a constant struggle. This book was supposed to trace the the US from the VRA to modern times, looking at the civil rights movements, political developments, the struggles and more. Unfortunately, it's really har ...more
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Voter suppression, in various forms, has been with us since the founding of our nation and it does not appear to be going away any time soon. Americans have used poll taxes, literacy tests, shortened registration periods, intimidation, murder, limited polling stations in "undesirable" districts, and a variety of other means to make it harder for certain kinds of people to vote. In short, we're very good at making certain disenfranchising practices legal, even though they conflict with the ideals ...more
Robert S
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
"This act flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny.”
- President Lyndon B. Johnson, during the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

"The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have."
- Congressman John Le
Brandon Abraham
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Nation's Ari Berman narrates the story of the Voting Rights Act since its adoption under the height of Great Society legislation and in the wake of the Blood Sunday March to recent attempts by the Supreme Court to adopt a more restrictive interpretation of the law's scope, effectively, the author argues, freeing the Tea Party-controlled governments of the Old Confederacy from federal oversight and accelerating a pattern of restricting the right to vote not seen since the end of Reconstructio ...more
Martha Phillips
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My takeaway quote: "The Supreme Court reaffirmed the appeals court ruling on October 18 [2014, Veasey v. Perry] ... It was the first time since 1982 that the Court had approved a voting law deemed intentionally discriminatory by a trial court. Justice Ginsburg stayed up all night writing her dissent and released the opinion at 5:05 a.m. on Saturday ... 'The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that like ...more
Matt Austin
Aug 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Mr. Berman's book started off as an entertaining read. In the opening chapters, the reader was provided with a thorough history of voting rights, covering freedom summer, SNCC, and Selma. Initially, I was hooked. After 200 pages, my interest took a precipitous fall. While the book was very engaging at the start, it became long-winded and I lost interest. Voting rights is a critical issue, and Mr. Berman did a great job providing a historical context, but he lost me 3/4 the way through.

This is such an important book.

It was surreal reaching page 287 and reading the name "Reverend William Barber II." I thought: wasn't he the main speaker in that conference call I attended a few days ago? Yup. He was a speaker and I was just listening in--it was about the extreme economic injustice in this country that the pandemic has made even more obvious.

The organization (besides, how I found out about the online event) is A Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The things you take for granted from a position of white privilege are legion. Like, you think that the Voting Rights Act took care of all that nastiness. No. A very dedicated group of people have been working to undermine it since the moment it was passed. And while most of us haven't been looking - they've been quite effective.
I often felt nauseous while reading this.
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I didn't know, when I added this to my 2020 to-read pile, that this would be John Lewis' last year with us, but it seems poetically right that I read this now. He is ultimately the hero of this narrative, even though many other players come in and take center stage at various moments. It is his life that really shapes the arc of the fight for voting rights in the 20th century, which is painstakingly detailed in this text. It will come as no surprise to many how much race and racism has shaped th ...more
Rachel Moyes
Dec 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had no idea of all the ways people could be disenfranchised. And this is still happening now. This is not just a 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King civil rights issue. We need to keep fighting this. It's appalling to think that there are people out there who are willing to keep others from voting in order to gain power. The vote is so fundamental. It should not be infringed for any reason. Every person's vote counts, no matter who they are voting for or why.

Giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 bec
Chris Witkowski
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
After watching the funeral of voting rights activist John Lewis and reading about the controversy surrounding early and mail-in ballots as a lead up to this year's election, I decided I needed to educate myself on the history of the Voting Rights Act. A search for books discussing it lead me to this fine account of the events that preceded the passage of the law in 1965 and the subsequent, relentless efforts on the part of opponents of the law to weaken and ultimately overturn it. The stories of ...more
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's not easy to be a non-fiction book, covering a non-fun topic, that leaves the reader saying "I really liked that!" Though I did. I love the way this book is written. Ari tells the story in circles. The best way I can describe it. Circling through and back to events that are a few years apart and eventually through events that are decades apart. It gives a really fantastic context and promotes understanding and recognition of events by not just moving historically along a timeline.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
The story of the Voter's Right Act, from it's creation until today. Beyond the very beginning I knew next to nothing, so it was very educational. Especially as it talked about the politics of VRA gerrymandering and the deeply embedded Republican VRA strategy. It would be interesting to read this from a conservative view point to see which points might change.
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book does an excellent job detailing the need for the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the many attempts to undermine it over the last 50 years. Its focus on various officials in presidential administrations, rather than the presidents themselves, painted a more intimate picture of the challenges to voting rights and the continued need to fight for them today.
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Ari Berman is a senior contributing writer for The Nation magazine and a Reporting Fellow at The Nation Institute. Business Insider named Berman one of the “50 most influential political pundits” in the US. He’s written extensively about American politics, civil rights, and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Po ...more

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“Daddy, why are we going to the Capitol?” she asked her father. “Luci Baines, we have to go to the Capitol,” Johnson said to his daughter. “It’s the only place to go. As a result of this great legislation becoming the law of the land, there will be many men and women who will not be returning to these hallowed halls because of the decision they have made to support it. And because of this great legislation that I will be signing into law, there will be many men and women who will have an opportunity to come to the halls of Congress who could have never have come otherwise.” 3 likes
“After Obama’s victory, 395 new voting restrictions were introduced in 49 states from 2011 to 2015. Following the Tea Party’s triumph in the 2010 elections, half the states in the country, nearly all of them under Republican control—from Texas to Wisconsin to Pennsylvania—passed laws making it harder to vote. The sudden escalation of efforts to curb voting rights most closely resembled the Redemption period that ended Reconstruction, when every southern state adopted devices like literacy tests and poll taxes to disenfranchise African-American voters.” 3 likes
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