Jefferson Davis County in southwest Mississippi has the distinction of being named after Confederate States of America President Jefferson Davis. That’s good or bad, depending on whether you regard what occurred between 1861 and 1865 as the Civil War or as the War Between the States.
Jefferson Davis County may soon have another distinction as the place where a serious national legal effort to push back against vote fraud was launched.
On Friday, three former U.S. Justice Department attorneys filed lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi seeking an order to compel election officials in Jefferson Davis County, as well as in nearby Walthall County, to clean up their voter rolls.
Like hundreds of counties around the nation, these two have more active registered voters than there are age-eligible residents, a perfect recipe for making sure the dead or otherwise departed get a chance to vote again and again.
Citing 2010 U.S. census data and voter-registration records, the lawsuit states that Jefferson Davis County has 10,078 active voters, but only 9,536 age-eligible citizens. “More than 105 percent of living citizens old enough to vote were registered to vote in Jefferson Davis County in 2013,” the lawsuit says.
Walthall County has 14,108 registered voters, but only 11,368 age-eligible citizens, which means that 124 percent of Walthall’s eligible voters are registered. Not a good set of numbers if you’re concerned about vote fraud.
On behalf of the American Civil Rights Union and its supporters in Mississippi, the lawsuits filed by attorneys J. Christian Adams, Christopher Coates and Henry Ross also ask the court to order election officials to provide records and data for public inspection as required by Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act, better known as the Motor Voter Law.
The lawsuits are part of the American Civil Rights Union’s Election Integrity Defense Project, among whose architects are Edwin Meese III, a former U.S. attorney general under President Reagan, and J. Kenneth Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state.
Mr. Adams and Mr. Coates resigned their posts in the Voting Section of the Justice Department in 2010. They testified to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that the Obama administration was blatantly biased, as exemplified by dismissing voter-intimidation charges against New Black Panther Party members at a Philadelphia polling station in 2008. On April 16, Mr. Adams testified before the House Judiciary Committee as to how the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez has overlooked criminal behavior within its ranks while refusing to enforce Section 8. The Mississippi lawsuits are a way of doing the job that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s staff won’t do.
Looking over the electoral landscape, it’s clear that a more robust effort to force officials to ensure electoral integrity is long overdue. Every fraudulent vote cancels out a legitimately cast ballot and undermines confidence in our electoral system.
In 2007, citing clear evidence of vote fraud, a court in southwest Mississippi overturned a Democratic primary election for circuit clerk — in Jefferson Davis County. Circuit Judge Forrest Johnson found at least 26 instances of voting irregularities.
“In that election, dead people voted, as did a person who was in a hospital the entire day two counties over from Jefferson Davis County,” wrote state Sen. Joey Fillingane, a chief sponsor of the state’s photo-ID law, which has been halted by the U.S. Justice Department for nearly a year. “The problem is real, and a strong voter-ID law is part of the solution.”
The other part of the solution is compelling election officials to follow the law, clean up voter rolls and make the process transparent.
No stranger to Mississippi, where he investigated voting practices while working for the Justice Department, Mr. Adams, under the auspices of the American Civil Rights Union, sent letters in January to election officials seeking data that must be made available under Section 8. He never got an answer.
The two counties are demographically and politically the flip-side of each other. Walthall County has a majority-white population of 15,400 and voted 54 percent for Mitt Romney to 45 percent for Barack Obama in 2012. Jefferson Davis County, with a majority-black population of 12,500, voted 62 percent for Mr. Obama and 37 percent for Mr. Romney.
In 2011, Mississippians approved by 62 percent a constitutional amendment requiring voter photo IDs. The legislature then passed an implementation law, which Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed on May 17, 2012. Before you could say “ID, please?” the Justice Department stopped enforcement before the November presidential election.
As with South Carolina and Texas, whose photo-ID laws were promptly suspended, Mr. Holder invoked Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires the Justice Department or a three-judge federal panel in the District of Columbia to approve any changes in election laws and redistricting in several Southern states plus dozens of other jurisdictions around the nation. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments challenging Section 5 in Shelby County v. Holder, with a ruling expected in June.
This November, Mississippi has statewide municipal elections. It would be nice if the voter rolls were cleaned up by then. It would also be nice if the U.S. Justice Department quit dragging its feet and allowed the photo-ID law to take effect, although it’s doubtful whether it could be implemented in time.
The secretary of state must first conduct a voter-education campaign and devise ways to make photo IDs available at no charge, an election official told me Wednesday.
In the meantime, a positive judgment in the American Civil Rights Union’s court case could unleash a tsunami of legal action against uncooperative election officials around the nation.
Honest, up-to-date voter-registration rolls are the last thing that vote fraudsters want to see.
Robert Knight is senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a columnist for The Washington Times.