Jacksonians/Hinds Countians show that ‘Black Votes Matter’

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At the close of each election there are things to be learned. Sometimes it is even a matter of re-learning or affirming what one may already know, such as the fact that Black votes matter. In the case of the last general election, one of the things that the Brandon Presley Campaign had affirmed all along was that Black voters in Hinds could turn the gubernatorial election in his favor.

Black voters in Hinds County were solid supporters for him, but the turnout was not heavy enough to make it a statewide victory. Both lessons can be duly noted. During the election itself, there was quite a bit of discussion surrounding Hinds County’s turnout. Several national news outlets reported early that voting in Jackson was so heavy that the County had run out of ballots. A few minutes later, however, the
truth was discovered, too few ballots had been printed and provided to some polling places.

That incident, although it did not by itself cost Presley the election, helped demonstrate that Jackson and Hinds County, both more than 70% Black, were crucial to the success of Presley and other Democratic candidates for statewide office. At the state level, only two Democratic nominees, De’Keither Stamps for Central District Public Service Commissioner and Willie Simmons for Central District Transportation Commissioner, were victorious.

They are both Black and are based in Hinds County. For them, Jackson and Hinds County, with help
from the Delta counties in the central part of the state, were able to overwhelm the other more white dominated counties in central Mississippi and secure their victories.

Yes, Jackson and Hinds County voted and it mattered. It was a follow-up to that fact, lest one forget the Democratic primary three months earlier and the Jackson garbage collection dispute during the spring.
To perhaps the surprise of many political observers, three of the incumbent Hinds County Supervisors – David Archie, Credell Calhoun, and Vern Gavin – were replaced during the recent Democratic primary. There had been a long-running, public dispute between Archie and Calhoun, with Gavin being perceived as a close ally of Calhoun. As a result of their dispute, their negative antics were caught on camera on several occasions, with Hinds County deputies having to intervene. It was embarrassing to many residents who are never forgetful.

As a result, at the first opportunity, Archie was replaced by political newcomer Anthony Smith. Long-time political official Calhoun was replaced by Deborah Butler Dixon. Gavin was replaced by entrepreneur and radio personality Wanda Evers. Generally, the elections were handy victories. Jackson and Hinds County voters wanted replacements. This point was proven or emphasized by the fact that Butler Dixon herself had been recently booted out of her state legislature for voting so frequently with the Republican opponents of many Hinds County residents; nonetheless, she was perceived as better than Calhoun.

On the other hand, Smith was such a newcomer that most close political observers had never heard of him. Hinds County voters were apparently just fed up and wanted change. To many of them, their desire was to remove the sources of much public embarrassment. Their votes mattered.

In similar fashion, many Jackson voters had made their feelings known last Spring regarding the city’s garbage collection contract. In what was one of the most divisive, rancorous, and long-term disputes, voters packed City Hall for more than a week in an effort to get a new contract signed and to avoid having more than two weeks of no garbage pick-ups. In massive numbers, voters have threatened to vote out of office three councilmen – Aaron Banks, Ashby Foote, and Vernon Hartley – in the next municipal election in 2025.

Voters believe they refused to honor or extend the contract of Richard’s Disposal, Inc. (For a while, Kenneth Stokes was also under the gun as well.) Eventually, Banks agreed to a contract extension, breaking the log-jam, enabling there to be a six-month contract extension. It was, nevertheless, the threat of the voters that made the difference. Their votes matter.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the current garbage collection negotiations. How much will be repeated by the negotiators?

How much will be remembered by the voters at the polls in 2025?

This brings us to the recent state election and the conduct of the Hinds County Election Commission during that election. Aside from the matter of the victories and defeats of that day, November 7 told us
more than meets the eye. For starters, we keep in mind the fact that the city and county are more than 70% Black and more than 70% Democratic.

The Hinds County Election Commission and the Circuit Clerk’s Office are in the hands of Black officials. As a result of those realities, many citizens are raising the question as to why ballots ran out in some precincts in this Black, Democratic strong-hold.

Realizing the importance of the county’s role in the state election, many wonder if the officials were just asleep at the wheel. One would not like to think that the debacle was the result of any interference from
those who desired to diminish the role of Black voters and Hinds County. He/she can give the officials the benefit of the doubt, but the thought of such shenanigans should never be dismissed.

From what we have been able to determine, no other county had that problem. Why then Hinds County?
Zack Wallace is the Circuit Clerk for Hinds County. The Election Commissioners for Hinds County are Kidada Brown, Jermal Clark, RaToya Gilmer McGee, Yvonne R. Horton, and Shirley Varnado. They were responsible for the election in Hinds County. It is at them that many fingers are pointed and to whom questions are directed. Some have suggested that their conduct bears scrutiny. Others have suggested that they face the music at their next elections.

For sure, the majority hopes that they never again follow any advice or suggestion to print less than enough ballots to accommodate the entire electorate. Surplus ballots can always be accounted for and
shredded, which is better than having voters not being able to vote, being unnecessarily inconvenienced, and/or losing faith in the system.

It is clear that the incident opened the door to more criticism of the commissioners. It is possible that the Republican-dominated state legislature may now look for ways to usurp the power and authority of the Hinds County Circuit Clerk and Election Commission, especially given its size, racial composition, and its political leaning. The election debacle on November 7th may give them an excuse.

Everybody knows from past examples that, when it comes to Jackson and Hinds County, “Black Votes Matter.” That is how it is in a democracy, and that right and reality must be defended.

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Jacksonians/Hinds Countians show that ‘Black Votes Matter’

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
November 20, 2023