f you're itching to despair more deeply for the future of the country, check out Pema Levy's extensive reporting in Mother Jones on how former members of the vote-suppressing Bush 43 Justice Department have privatized the ethical swamp they all made out of it, and how they're now engaged as private citizens in money-whipping poor—and largely minority—counties into purging their voter rolls. The details are as sorry as you can expect them to be.
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 American Civil Rights Union (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.
Recall that the scandal involving the firing for political purposes of several U.S. Attorneys happened because those lawyers refused to chase phantom voter fraud at the behest of the Bush White House. As it turns out, some familiar characters never left the stage.
At the time Noxubee County got its letter, the ACRU's legal work was led by J. Christian Adams, a former staff attorney in the Voting Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. Adams joined the department in 2005, when high-ranking official Bradley Schlozman was found by the department's inspector general to be illegally using political ideology to fill the Civil Rights Division with conservative lawyers. Adams, a conservative attorney from South Carolina, was "exhibit A" of Schlozman's hiring practices, a former department official who participated in Adams' job interview later said.
Adams' early cases at the ACRU were assisted by Christopher Coates, Adams' former boss at the Justice Department. Previously an attorney for the ACLU, Coates appears to have undergone an ideological conversion while at the Justice Department; one colleague suggested this might have been spurred in part by the promotion of a black attorney to a job he wanted. In 2007, with Bush in office, he rose to Voting Section chief. Like Adams, Robert Popper joined the Voting Section in 2005 and later became Coates' deputy. When he left the department in 2013, he joined the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, an early player in spearheading voter purge cases.
Basically, the scam works this way: This bunch sends a threatening letter to an impoverished local election commission. Do what we say, the letter says, or we'll find some plaintiffs and sue you down to your socks and underwear. Often, these election commissions don't have the dough to pay a single billable hour to a decent lawyer. So, rather than face the lawsuit, the commission agrees to sign a "consent degree" by which it agrees to do what the Washington freebooters want it to do.
It's a shakedown, pure and simple. And it works.
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. The case docket was notably one-sided. The ACRU would file motions, and the commission—still lawyer-less—would fail to respond. Five months after filing the suit, the ACRU moved for a default judgement against the commission. The judge said the commission should have an attorney to go over the terms of the agreement, and the county paid a local attorney about $1,000 to help the commissioners resolve the suit, according to two of the commissioners. (An attorney for the ACRU also recalled that the county hired the lawyer, but the county's Board of Supervisors told Mother Jones it had no record of hiring or paying an attorney in this case.) Some of the commissioners viewed him as ineffectual.
"He didn't know as much about it as my daughter do," Miller says. His advice was to sign the decree. "They had our backs up against the wall," recalls John Bankhead, the commission's chairman. Under pressure, three of the five commissioners finally signed the consent decree. Miller and one other refused. The judge declined to accept it without all five on board, and the ACRU renewed its push for a default judgement. "We are not gonna get those [voter] cards back," Miller told her colleagues. "I promised my voters I would look out for them, and to me, that's not looking out for them."
Noxubee County is 71 percent black. Its residents have a median yearly family income of a little more than $27,000, and 32 percent of the people there live below the poverty line. In Macon, the county seat, that number rises to almost 50 percent. Meanwhile, the ACRU gets about $2 million in grants every year from the usual suspects like the Bradley Foundation. So Adams and his group picked their target well.
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If you read the story carefully, you will find the ACRU hooked up in its efforts with True The Vote, another voter suppression outfit. TTV got famous because it was the main "victim" in the IRS screw-up regarding the tax-exemptions of "nonpartisan social welfare" organizations like True The Vote. It turns out that the ACRU is one of those nonpartisan social welfare operations, too. Our election laws are a farce..