A biased but fascinating article:
By Pema Levy
(July 7, 2017) — Willie Miller was born in 1948 in Noxubee County, Mississippi, an agricultural community along the state’s eastern border named after a Choctaw word that translates roughly to “stinks like fish.” As a teenager, she saw the civil rights movement transform the region, where previously no African Americans had been registered to vote. In 2000, Miller, who is black, was elected to the Noxubee County Election Commission, and she’s been reelected every four years since. Today, the county of 11,000 is more than 70 percent African American and has a poverty rate nearly three times the national average. “You got a few that’s gonna crawl out of the cotton fields and go on and do something else with their lives, and most of them are gonna leave,” Miller says. For those who stay, Miller does her best to make sure they’re able to vote.
In June 2014, Miller and her four fellow election commissioners received a letter threatening legal action if they did not purge voters from the rolls. The letter came from the (ACRU), a Virginia-based group that has fashioned itself in recent years as a conservative counterpart to the ACLU. The ACRU requested that the commissioners reduce the number of registered voters by the midterm elections that fall because, it claimed, there were more people registered than there were voting-age citizens in the county. The commissioners wanted to fight back, but lacking the funds to hire an attorney, they decided not to respond and waited to see what would happen next.
The letter they had received was one of many that the ACRU had started sending to small, rural counties across Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arizona the year before. These letters were part of a legal campaign spearheaded by three former Justice Department officials from the George W. Bush administration to purge voter rolls across the country. The effort began in remote areas with few resources for legal defense, but recently it’s expanded to include population centers in key swing states. Voting rights advocates worry that the campaign is targeting minorities and likely Democratic voters.
The letter to Noxubee County alleged that the county was violating a federal law that requires states to keep their rolls up to date. The commissioners maintained that they were following the law. In fall 2015, the ACRU’s attorneys began to push the commission to sign a consent decree that would commit the county to vigorous vetting of its registered voter list in order to avoid a lawsuit. Among its provisions, the draft decree would require the commission to send a non-forwardable notice to all registered voters asking them to confirm their eligibility. Every voter who did not fill it out and return it would be put on a list of inactive voters, and anyone on that list who failed to vote in two federal elections would be removed from the rolls.
The commissioners refused to sign the decree. From her years in office, Miller knew that mailings are often returned as undeliverable. A third of the county’s residents live in mobile homes, and their address are not, as she puts it, “what they should be.” Some people use PO boxes but fail to pay to keep them active. So she was adamant that she would not agree to the mailing, and negotiations broke down.
In November 2015, the ACRU filed a lawsuit against the commission in federal court, alleging that there were 9,271 names on the registered voter list in a county with just 8,245 eligible voters.