Old Southern political bosses of the Jim Crow era would have winked with delight at the ingenious ploys of their latter-day successors in the art of voter suppression.
Republican legislators in dozens of states have devised any number of schemes to deny the rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans to vote. Many have succeeded, passing laws that would compel voters to present new forms of identification that many will find difficult to obtain, new fees, and confusing new rules that voters must navigate or risk having their vote disqualified.
Under Jim Crow, the same voters were targeted by the poll taxes, literacy tests and outright violence decades ago. And that is no accident.
A federal court panel was clear this week in that assessment as it struck down a 2011 Texas law. The court found the new Texas photo identification rules inflicted "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor." It also noted that those poor people are disproportionately likely to be blacks and Hispanics.
One difference between the bad old days of Jim Crow and our enlightened time is that it is no longer possible to declare openly that race or ethnicity is the reason why some citizens will be denied the vote. No, today's voter suppression laws are passed under the guise of cleaning up nonexistent voter fraud.
In the Texas case, the court didn't buy such arguments, finding the rationales presented by state officials to be "unpersuasive, invalid or both."
That's about as close as a court can come to screaming "Liar!"
The judges' decision came on the same day that Mitt Romney accepted his party's nomination for President. For the GOP, it was a bad week for such things.
It's easy to see why Republican-controlled legislatures would want to make voting more difficult for minorities. Never big supporters of the GOP, blacks and Latinos are positively cold on the party's slate this year. Keeping a few thousand likely Democratic voters away from the polls would be mighty convenient this November, given the tight presidential race that is anticipated.
The laws may also be viewed as symptomatic of the anxiety many white Americans feel about the nation's changing demographics. People used to political ascendancy don't cede their power easily. Hispanic population growth certainly threatens many, particularly in places like Texas.
Federal courts are coming to the same conclusion. Yet another ruling turned aside a Texas redistricting map, charging that the state couldn't prove the boundaries weren't drawn "without discriminatory purposes."
The same week Texas got that rebuke, another federal court panel ruled against Florida's efforts to enact strict new voter registration rules. A ruling on similarly challenged voter identification rules in South Carolina is expected soon.
In court challenge after court challenge, states are failing to prove their contention that fraud is rampant. They also fail to show that the new rules won't harm groups of voters who historically have been disenfranchised.
To be sure, legislative efforts at voter suppression fall short of the brutal standard set under Jim Crow. Yet they are insidious. It is easy for some to forget that many died gruesome deaths to secure the right of all to vote. Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney are the names of the ones we know, but there were countless more. Their names and stories are lost to history. What they achieved is not.
Or, not yet.
(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)