- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

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 two black officials are charged with engaging in a “pattern of discriminatory action” over a period of several years that resulted in the denial of the rights of white citizens of Noxubee County to “participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice.”

The non-jury trial, which is scheduled to conclude later this week and go to U.S. District Judge Tom S. Lee, has pitted the county’s black-controlled political power structure against government prosecutors, who have accused Mr. Brown and his backers of seeking to rig elections to guarantee that white candidates lost.

Defense attorneys in the case began calling witnesses this week, hoping to counter government accusations that Mr. Brown was “the puppet master” of a far-ranging conspiracy to violate the voting rights of whites.

Mr. Brown’s attorney, Wil Colom, told the Commercial Dispatch that the Justice Department in three weeks of testimony had presented only scant evidence that his client was biased against whites as he oversaw Noxubee County elections during his six-year tenure as Democratic Party chief.

“They can’t find a racist statement Ike Brown has made since he became chairman,” Mr. Colom said.

A defense witness, James Bridges, one of eight black Noxubee County precinct workers called to testify, yesterday told the judge, “We’re in charge of the [poll] tables. Nobody else dictates,” the newspaper said.

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.

“Voting is racially polarized in Noxubee County,” Richard Engstrom, a voting-rights specialist hired by Mr. Brown to rebut the Justice Department’s arguments, said in a report to the court. “Whites voters clearly prefer white candidates over African-American candidates, and they frequently are on the losing end of the elections because their candidate preferences are not shared by the African-American voters.”

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.

Attorneys for the Democratic Executive Committee, Mr. Brown and the Noxubee County Election Commission asked last week for the case to be dismissed after the government rested on Monday. Judge Lee denied the request.

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.

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