A federal court trial is expected to end this week in a Justice Department lawsuit seeking an end to “relentless voting-related discrimination” by black political leaders in a rural Mississippi county—the first suit brought under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that accuses blacks of suppressing the rights of whites.
The lawsuit targets Ike Brown, longtime political boss of Noxubee County, Miss., who serves as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee and superintendent of Democratic primary elections, and Carl Mickens, circuit clerk for Noxubee County and superintendent of non-primary elections.
The lawsuit was filed in February 2005 in the wake of a two-year Justice Department investigation into suspected voting irregularities in Noxubee County. The department is seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent any discrimination against voters based on race.
Noxubee County is located about 100 miles northeast of Jackson, the state capital, on the Alabama border. Its 12,548 residents are 69 percent black and 29 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The lawsuit said “racially-polarized” discrimination in the county affected 2,826 white persons of voting age.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Mickens have denied government’s accusations they conspired against white voters and candidates, saying whites lose in local elections because they are in the minority.
But the Justice department lawsuit said:
* White voters and candidates, along with those who supported them, experienced “relentless voting-related racial discrimination” at the direction of Mr. Brown, Mr. Mickens and others acting in concert with them.
* Mr. Brown recruited and qualified black candidates from outside Noxubee County to run against white candidates he knew “did not qualify under state residency laws” and excluded whites from participating in Democratic Executive Committee meetings and caucuses.
* Mr. Mickens manipulated and permitted Mr. Brown to tamper with voter registration polls “in an unlawful manner” by moving voters from one district to another to affect racial percentages “in an attempt to alter the outcome in certain black-on-white elections.”
* Mr. Brown attempted to prohibit white voters from voting in Democratic primaries even though they were legally entitled to do so, criticized black citizens for supporting white candidates or forming biracial coalitions, illegally rejected the absentee ballots of white voters, and failed to provide white candidates with information about absentee ballots.
* Mr. Brown and Mr. Mickens discriminated against whites in the selection of persons to work as poll managers and workers, discriminated against whites by not allowing them and their supporters to observe the disposition of challenges to absentee ballots, and allowed blacks who were not residents of Noxubee County to vote in county elections.
* Mr. Mickens treated voters in a “hostile and intimidating manner” after they went to the courthouse to vote absentee ballots, instructing them “in a coercive manner” to vote for candidates he preferred rather than those preferred by the voters.
Mr. Brown, a former tax preparer who served 21 months in prison in the 1990s on a felony conviction of preparing fraudulent federal income-tax returns, also has denied Justice Department accusations he used racial slurs to alienate blacks who supported white candidates, published the names of white voters to intimidate them, and illegally labeled white voters’ absentee ballots so they would be rejected by election officials.