The Town Without Elections

Inter-generational power is a thing.

To stick with a general theme of late, I commend this piece from Kyle Whitemore at A fight for rights and control in a Black Belt town without elections.

Braxton, who is Black, is one of two men who claim to be mayor here. The other, Woody Stokes, is white. Eights folks lay claim to the city’s four council seats.

Now control of Newbern town government is at the center of a lawsuit in federal court alleging blatant disfranchisement — a case that focuses, not on control of Congress or the delegates to the Electoral College, but over who gets their roads paved when there’s money for it and their ditches cleared after storms.

The whole situation is complex, so I recommend reading the piece in full, as a simple excerpt will not suffice. The town in question is Newbern, AL and it is located in the Black Belt region of the state that I recently commented upon (it is not far from Selma). It is in a poor, largely ignored, part of the state.

One of the claimants to mayor inherited the position (yes, you read that correctly).

What also makes this an odd place for an election law case is that, as far back as anyone can remember, Newbern has never had an election.

Instead, the mayor and council have acted as a sort of self-appointing board. Stokes’ full name is Haywood Stokes III, who inherited the job from Haywood Stokes Jr. Likewise, other officials have passed control to new people after incumbents moved away, retired or died. The town is about 80 percent Black but most of these officials have been white.

And that has been how this town has worked, at least until Braxton qualified to run for office.

Emphasis mine.

Again, I commend the piece in full.

I will say that apart from the obvious democracy and race issues, the case is also an example, albeit an extreme one, of why I tend not to accept the notion that local government is the purest government, but instead the government that is often the easiest to corrupt.

FILED UNDER: History, Law and the Courts, Race and Politics, Society, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    It’s all perfectly legal I’m sure, and after all, the skills people learn while clearing their own ditches have a marketable value.

  2. JohnMc says:

    Have a family connection to Newbern. Two forebears served between them 100 years as Methodist preachers in those parts. Result is lots of family are buried there. The feeling one gets is very Faulkner. When I read the story some time ago it rang true as a bell.

  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    The town is about 80 percent Black but most of these officials have been white.

    That reminds me of the thiefastans in north St. Louis Cty.