The defense of electoral “purity” against intrusion, corruption, and fraud has historically bound US voting to a pernicious set of gendered and racial narratives, chief among them the routine depiction of the ballot as a white woman whose iconic, vulnerable body inscribes the limits of national belonging. By paying particular attention to the writings of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Thomas Dixon Jr., and William Faulkner, the essay traces the fixation on “the purity of the ballot box” from its moorings in the post-Reconstruction South to its reemergence in the disputed 2000 presidential election and its consequence for the doomed Voting Rights Act.

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