By Terri Ferguson Smith / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Questions have been raised in Meridian over whether an election official who was accused of voter fraud is involved in a local campaign for mayor.
Ike Brown of Noxubee County was sued in 2005 by the U.S. Justice Department with violating the Voting Rights Act through suppressing white voter turnout.
Despite persistent rumors to the contrary, Meridian mayoral candidate Percy Bland said Brown is not part of his campaign
Bland, who is running as a Democrat, said he too is aware of what he calls whisper campaigns about some role Brown is playing in his campaign. First of all, Bland said, Brown is not his campaign manager. Bland said he doesn't have a full time campaign manager, but he plans to hire one in early May.
"We're running our own campaign. You're asking me questions about someone who is on the Executive Committee of the Democratic board," Bland said. "He still has a voice on the state Democratic board. Anybody who is on our state Democratic board, I will listen to things that they say that can put me in a better position to win a race. I will never, ever do anything that relates to voter fraud in any kind of way. So what a person's past is, is their past."
Bland said that Brown did tell him to get a list of people from the Lauderdale Circuit Clerk's Office who had voted absentee in two past elections. On Feb. 11 of this year, Brown requested a document containing the absentee voters' names from the Circuit Clerk's office, documents from the office show. Bland picked the absentee voters list up on February 14.
"We bought a disc for $100 to give us patterns of the people who had voted absentee in the presidential and the 2009 mayor race because most of those people will probably continue to vote absentee," Bland said. "They might have a disability or some issue that they can't get down to vote. We know our data and we are paying attention to any information that will give us a strength to win this race."
Much of Brown's troubles with the Justice Department stemmed from absentee ballots when he was chairman of the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee and superintendent of Democratic Primary Elections.
DOJ won in federal court a case against Brown which accused him of diluting white voter strength by obtaining large numbers of defective absentee ballots from black voters, improperly counting absentee ballots in order to ensure that defective ballots were counted and permitting the improper assistance of black voters.
The lawsuit said Brown attempted to get a disproportionate number of absentee ballots from black voters and through his role as superintendent of elections for the Democratic Primary elections, he had a direct influence over poll managers counting the ballots.
One example included in the lawsuit was that Brown went through absentees the night before an election and placed yellow post-it notes on the ones he wanted to be rejected.
The next day, Brown told the poll managers that he had already gone through the absentee ballots and marked the ones he wanted rejected. "The rest of them is all right to count," he said.
The lawsuit states that his directions were followed without deviation.
The Justice Department also had a copy of a press release issued by Brown prior to the 2003 primary election. In it, Brown named 174 Democratic voters, all white, whom he intended to challenge were they to vote in the 2003 Democratic primary. The press release purported to base this prospective challenge either on asserting that the voter moved outside of the county or on claiming that the voter was not loyal to the Democratic party. As only white voters were listed, the district court considered it not credible that Brown was only aware of whites who had moved or were consequently no longer eligible to vote.
In his efforts to have all black elected officials in Noxubee County, the lawsuit stated that Brown recruited black individuals to run for office even though he knew the individuals failed to meet the position's qualifications including one office in which the candidate did not live in the county.
In 2009, The U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's finding against Brown.
Bland reiterated that Brown is not a part of his campaign, and nothing improper is going to happen in the race for mayor.
"Ike Brown, his name or his past will not be a factor in this race," Bland said. "People's voices and who they want to lead this city will be what matters."