TaShun Bowden-Lewis, Chief Public Defender, Misconduct Allegations

LDF Sues Alabama Town Alleging Residents’ Voting Rights Were Violated For Decades

Since the mid-1960s, Newbern, Alabama, has failed to either hold or publicize its municipal elections, as required by state law.

The town of Newbern, Alabama is being sued by the Legal Defense Fund over the town’s refusal to let Patrick Braxton, a Black man who won the mayorship in 2020, do the job that he earned because no one else in the town, including its former mayor, filed to run. 

As The Guardian reported, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and the private Alabama law firm Quinn, Connor, Weaver, Davis & Rouco are suing the town’s ex-Mayor Haywood “Woody” Stokes and the town’s all-white council board. They accuse the defendants of manipulating the political process to maintain power, including refusing to allow Braxton to take office. Since the mid-1960s, Newbern has failed to either hold or publicize its municipal elections, as Alabama’s state law requires. 

The injunction’s brief summary of events states, “For nearly sixty years, Defendants and their predecessors have operated a “hand-me-down governance” system in the town of Newbern. Under this system, Defendants have generally either refused to hold elections at all or failed to provide meaningful notice about upcoming elections.”

The injunction continues, “Although about 80% of Newbern residents are Black, Defendants’ actions have led to the de facto appointment of almost exclusively white residents to the offices of mayor and town council. Defendants’ refusal to lawfully administer elections denies Plaintiffs their fundamental right to vote in violation of the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”).”

Furthermore, Newbern has maintained a system of two mayors, according to the lawsuit. Some town residents were unaware that they even had the right to participate in elections.

Braxton told The Guardian in 2023 that he hoped the town does the right thing, but if not, he is willing to sue.

“They’re] so stuck in their ways and don’t want nothing else for the town. They just want it to stay the same,” Braxton said. “I hope they break, and just go ahead and release everything to me. If not, we’ll just go to court.”

The LDF provided a statement from Braxton, which emphasized that citizens’ inability to vote in elections violates the democratic process.

“For decades, officials in my town have excluded me and other voters from participating in elections and having a say in what happens here,” Braxton said. “Voting is not a privilege; it is a responsibility in helping to shape the direction and priorities of our community. We want to ensure our voices are heard, and votes are counted. We ask the courts to enforce elections in Newbern this November so that we can cast our ballots and actively participate in the democratic process.”

Richard Rouco, a partner at the Alabama firm that joined the motion for an injunction, said in a press release that the town effectively has been depriving its citizens of their constitutional rights. “In failing to hold or give notice to residents for municipal elections, Newbern officials have continually prevented residents from electing representatives and holding office. It is imperative that the courts step in to ensure Newbern residents can fairly and fully exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

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