US 5th Circuit upholds ruling against Noxubee party boss

Imagine a majority white county in Mississippi where the local party boss flagrantly suppresses black voter activity. He issues statements listing the names of local black activists who he will challenge if they attempt to vote. When blacks vote by absentee, he flags their ballots the night before the election to be discarded. He is public about his determination, proclaiming every elected official in the county should be white, and urges voters to “Vote Right, Vote White.” When black voters want to participate in organizing election mechanics, he hides the public meetings in the homes of his white supporters. Finally, when exposed by federal officials, he ignores them saying the court can’t tell him what to do. It sounds like Mississippi fifty years ago.

In fact, it is present day Mississippi. Except I’m speaking of majority black Noxubee County and Democratic Party boss Ike Brown (who is black) violating the voting rights of white Democrats.

The Fifth Circuit decision provides entertaining reading into the mechanics of a Mississippi political boss, including his control over precinct operations. At the West Macon precinct, the poll manager called Brown to tell him his ballots were being challenged and then announced, “Ain’t no ballots being challenged. I was instructed by Ike not to – can’t no ballots be challenged.”

At the Brooksville precinct, testimony showed that Brown “inspected the absentee ballots the night before the runoff and placed yellow post-it notes on select ballots that he wished to be rejected…The next day, Brown told the poll managers ‘I’ve already went through these absentee ballots and I put y’all’s stick-on stickers on the ballots that I want rejected and the rest of them is all right to count.” The ballots of white voters were rejected as deficient, while ballots of black voters meeting the same criteria were counted.

The Court noted Brown published a list of 174 white Democratic voters he intended to challenge if they attempted to vote in the Democratic Primary. And in 1995 Brown “urged voters to ‘Keep Hope Alive [and] Vote Black in ’95’ in an open letter to Noxubee County voters.” As Chairman of the Noxubee Democratic Executive Committee, he “voiced the opinion that all of the county’s elected officials should be black” and accused whites of racism (without evidence) to drum up support of his candidates.

The Court concluded Brown and his fellow defendants engaged in a “pattern of episodic behavior intended to deny white voters equal participation in the political process.” After an initial ruling, Brown pledged to reform, but the Court discovered he was up to his old tricks. Brown told one federal observer, “I don’t care what the court says. I am still primarily responsible for running this election.”

This story isn’t over. Ike Brown is not one to cede control of his political machine, and he has said he is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Brian Perry
Madison County Journal
3/5/9