Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haley Barbour

Mississippi's governor, Haley Barbour, has aroused controversy by his claim that "things weren't that bad" in his home town of Yazoo City, MS during the civil rights movement, and that the White Citizen's Council played a helpful role in peaceful integration.

Haley Barbour is wrong. Not only is he wrong, he does a disservice to his home town, his county, and his state by failing to recognize that despite very real danger, courageous citizens of Yazoo County and neighboring Holmes County did play a helpful role. There was, for example, Hazel Brannon Smith, the courageous owner and editor of the the Lexington Advertiser, in Holmes County, just north of Yazoo County. Her account here of the formation of the White Citizen's Council and its purposes and methods gives the lie to Barbour's more rose colored recollections.

In 1955 in Holmes County, the White Citizen's Council, together with the County Sheriff, ran the leaders of an interracial cooperative farm near Cruger out of the county. Here is a brief account of that event. For a more detailed account, see Providence by Will D. Campbell.

I know Yazoo City (pronounced "yeh-zoo", not "yah-zoo"). My father and younger brother were born there. My parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great aunts and great uncles are buried in Glenwood Cemetery there. Other relatives are buried at the cemetery at Fletcher's Chapel about five miles southeast of Yazoo City. My grandmother took me there to see the yankee cannon ball embedded in the chapel's wall.

I'm about ten years older than Governor Barbour. Even so, he would have to have been totally oblivious as a young man not to have known what the White Citizen's Council was up to.

It is true, so far as I know, that Citizen's Councils did not directly organize any murders. Those episodes (Emmett Till, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, and others) seem to have been done by the Klan. But as a result of Citizen's Councils efforts, many Black Citizens lost their livelihoods. The Citizens Councils published names of Black citizens who actively sought their civil rights, including the right to vote. Members of the Klan and others of a violent inclination knew what to do with that information.

Nor was the Citizen's Council only interested in Black activists. They worked closely with the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission to harass and intimidate white citizens receptive to integration. The White Citizen's Councils never supported integration, peaceful or otherwise.

As the White Citizen's Council newspaper explained in a front page article in 1956, "integration is a Communist - Jewish conspiracy to mongrelize the human race."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke died Monday in Washington, DC. Relatively few Americans knew who he was or what he had accomplished. His death is a great loss to the country.

Today's newspapers are full of tributes. Here is one of my favorites.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Instant Runoff Comments

I haven't come to a final opinion about the instant runoff voting procedure NC has used to fill Judge Wynn's former seat on the Court of Appeals, but I have some interim thoughts. And I also want to share some thoughts about comments received from a genuine expert on voting matters: Joyce McCloy.

The "instant" part of the procedure clearly refers to the voting, not the counting. The "runoff" part of the name is misleading. We don't have runoff primaries in judicial elections. IRV in this context provides an accelerated procedure to avoid the expense of a special election.

An ordinary judicial election with more than two candidates (thirteen sought this Court of Appeals seat) is held in two stages. The first stage is the primary, the purpose of which is to reduce the number of candidates to two for the general election. The two candidates then meet head to head. In this case, by definition, the winner will take more than fifty percent of the votes cast at the general election. But at the primary election, there is no requirement for any candidate to receive a majority of the votes cast in order to advance to the general election. It could therefore be said that the appearance of winning a majority of the votes is an illusion.

The same can be said of non judicial elections with many candidates from two or more parties for a single office. That is, the winner may actually enjoy the support of only a minority of the voters.

Ms. McCloy comments quite rightly that McCullough's vote amounts to only 27.99% of the total votes cast for this office, and Thigpen received only 27.65% of the votes. A true comparison with other judicial elections, though, would require counting total votes received at the general and dividing that by the total votes cast both at the primary and the general elections. I expect that would reveal that judicial candidates often are elected with a plurality rather than a majority of the vote.

Another way to compare would be to divide the votes received by each candidate by the total ballots cast in the state (2,003,130) instead of ballots cast for the office (1,943,771). That results in a vote percentage for each candidate of about 20%, give or take.

Counting the votes accurately in an IRV election presents special challenges because our machines are not programmed for such a count. The state board did a marvelous job of developing "work around" procedures. I'm just glad that Pamlico County uses the iVotronics machines. Our paper ballots (absentee by mail, curbside and provisional) had many more errors than the direct record equipment would allow. I'm confident in our count. Next week's recount is occasioned by the closeness of the result, not by the fact that it was an instant runoff.

If this procedure is to continue in the future, the state should make sure that replacement equipment is programmed to count IRV elections.

Another way to avoid the expense of runoff primaries, as I previously suggested here is to abolish the runoff. We don't need it. Most states don't use it. Despite its name, though, the purpose of IRV in judicial elections is not to avoid a runoff, but to avoid a special election. There are other ways to do this. For example, if the judicial opening comes too late to hold a primary at the regular time, just let the gubernatorial appointment to last until the next election cycle.

A more pointed question might be, "why do we elect judges, anyhow?"

That's the subject of another post.


The North Carolina Board of Elections reports that it has received the timely request for a mandatory recount from The Honorable Cressie Thigpen, Court of Appeals, for the Instant Runoff Election.

The State Board has ordered County Boards to schedule the recount beginning Wednesday, December 15th, 2010, to be completed by Friday, December 17th.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Instant Runoff Vote, Round Three?

This Tuesday, December 7th, the County Board of Elections held the canvass of the second round of counting of the instant runoff vote for a NC Court of Appeals seat. After round one in Pamlico County, Cressie Thigpen led, 667 to 593. After the second round, Doug McCullough leads Pamlico County 1137 to 863.

Unofficial statewide results for 99 counties (excluding Warren County) have McCullough leading Thigpen 541,861 to 535,396, a margin of 0.6% of the vote. This may require a recount.