Noxubee Voting Rights Victory

Forty-two years ago in Noxubee County, Mississippi, all of its elected officials were white while the population was 70 percent black and 30 percent white. Now, after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and subsequent massive black voter registration, almost all county officials are black. In the 1960s white officialdom kept blacks from voting and being elected to county office. At the turn of the 21st century, it was a black power structure that was engaging in systematic fraud to dilute the white vote and keep whites from being elected.

What a role reversal!

It is also noteworthy that for five decades the federal government would only go to court representing African-Americans in voting rights cases. No more.

An historic June 29 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Tom S. Lee of Mississippi declares: “It is manifest that Section 2 (of the 1965 Voting Rights Act) broadly protects the voting rights of all voters, even those who are white.”

The judge’s decision came in United States v. Brown – the first time the U.S. Justice Department ever brought a lawsuit to protect white people under the Voting Rights Act. For all of the faults of President George W. Bush’s administration, all Americans owe a debt of gratitude to a handful of courageous political appointees overseeing the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. These constitutionalists overruled the department’s left-wing career lawyers in order to file charges and bring the Mississippi miscreants to justice.

The judge was blunt:

“The court has not had to look far to find ample, direct and circumstantial evidence of an intent to discriminate against white voters which has manifested itself through practices designed to deny or dilute the voting rights of white voters in Noxubee County.”

An April 3, 2006 USA Today story on Ike Brown, the Noxubee County Democratic Party chairman, quoted friends describing him as “a street fighter,” “a character,” and in the words of his lawyer simply “a tough politician.”

During the court case, the true picture emerged of Brown and his one-man rule over Noxubee County. The party chairman had a “racial agenda,” the judge wrote, which led him to recruit black candidates for offices which he knew they were not qualified for under state residency laws. Judith Ann Ewing, a Democratic court bailiff, testified that Brown once entered a polling place and in a loud voice declared: “You’ve got to put blacks in office, our candidates.” The court further agreed with “the most serious charge by the government?” Brown’s “involvement in racially motivated abuse of the absentee ballot process.”

The court found:

* Recruitment of unqualified black candidates for county office, due to residency issues.
* Publication of advertisements falsely claiming white public officials were involved with marijuana cultivation.
* Brown engaged in systematic fraud to dilute white votes: “What is most striking about absentee voting in Noxubee County is the sheer volume of absentee ballots cast in relation to the number of qualified electors,” the court said. Over 20 percent of the ballots in the 2003 primary were absentee compared to 3 to 6 percent statewide. The court concluded there was “no explanation other than voter fraud.”
* Ballots cast by blacks with defects on their face, such as non-matching signatures or ineligibility to vote, were counted. At the same time, ballots cast by whites with identical defects were rejected. Brown was even found to have placed yellow “sticky notes” on the ballots of whites with orders to reject the ballots during the count.
* Brow’s poll watchers would not allow poll workers for white candidates to exercise their legal rights, such as lodging ballot challenges.
* The county sheriff and deputies joined with Brown in coordinating anti-white discrimination by threatening white candidates with arrest for campaigning near polling places, while allowing black candidates to engage in the same behavior.
* Brown held secret precinct caucuses and kept their location from white Democrats. (“Brown’s handling of the 2004 precinct caucuses represents- one of the most blatant abuses of (his) position as chairman,” the judge wrote.)

Ike Brown has something in common with the old white segregationists: “To the winner go the spoils, so long as another winner is not strong enough to take them away.” With this seminal federal court ruling, though, Noxubee County and all of America is forcefully reminded that voting rights are supposed to be colorblind. In fact, in an unprecedented move, the judge ordered Brown not to participate in any local election activity. Imagine the national media uproar if this party boss was a white Republican who discriminated against black voters.

Phil Kent is an Atlanta media consultant whose latest book is Foundations of Betrayal: How the Liberal Super-Rich Undermine America.