An article yesterday on Mississippi voting misstated the holdings of the federal courts. The courts have ruled that election redistricting plans submitted by several Mississippi counties were "constitutionally malapportioned" and in violation of the "one person/one vote rule." Also, the article did not mean to imply that the Justice Department is participating in all the discrimination cases now pending in Mississippi.
The Justice Department is sending more than 300 federal observers to monitor Mississippi's statewide elections tomorrow, Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds confirmed yesterday.
Reynolds, who heads the department's Civil Rights Division, said he decided late last week to send the observers. He said that a "pre-election survey" of the state determined that an undisclosed number of Mississippi counties are likely to be trouble spots.
"This was done as a matter of routine," Reynolds said. "We sent a comparable amount of observers to Alabama last year" for statewide elections.
"This is all part and parcel of what we've been doing since Day One," Reynolds said, "which is enforce observance of the Voting Rights Act. The only election we're looking at now is Mississippi. We'll respond to other situations as they arise."
A civil rights attorney in Mississippi said that he fears "voting fraud, intimidation and violence" in the state Tuesday.
Federal courts have ruled that proposed election redistricting plans submitted by 14 of Mississippi's 82 counties are racially discriminatory, a Justice Department spokesman said.
Consequently, the courts have delayed balloting on board of supervisors candidates in those counties. The board of supervisors in Mississippi is the agency that redraws the voting district lines within a county.
Last month, the Justice Department filed briefs in the discrimination cases against the counties that had been filed by civil rights lawyers.
Under the Voting Rights Act, Mississippi counties must receive Justice Department approval for any changes in election laws or redistricting. After the 1980 census, the state's counties became subject to redistricting because of population shifts. Most filed redistricting plans with the Justice Department. In mid-July, the department objected to 14 of them.
"What is unique is that the department has . . . rejected a lot of the redistricting plans," said Charles Victor McTeer, a Mississippi civil rights attorney and a plaintiff in one of the discrimination suits.
McTeer said that racial tension has increased in anticipation of Tuesday's voting. "I'm afraid there will be a lot of voting fraud, intimidation and violence" during the elections, he said.
The move to send observers continues the federal attention to Mississippi in the wake of Reynolds' recent trip there.
In June, Reynolds spent several days with civil rights activist Jesse L. Jackson's "Justice Buggy" voter-registration caravan that had been traveling through counties that have a reputation for voting-rights abuses. Following his trip, Reynolds dispatched two federal registrars to the area.
"That put the focus on Mississippi and the South again," Jackson said yesterday. "We registered over 16,000 people in Mississippi in June. And we could register thousands more if we broke the patterns of gerrymandering and annexation."
While saying that the federal observers are "going to have a very positive impact," Jackson said that "this is selective enforcement; we want collective enforcement" of voting rights. He renewed his call for a Justice Department-sponsored "summit" on voting rights.
Reynolds said that Jackson's request is "under study."