Willie Miller was born in 1948 in Noxubee County, Mississippi, an agricultural community along the state’s eastern border named after a Choctaw word that translates roughly to “stinks like fish.” As a teenager, she saw the civil rights movement transform the region, where previously no African Americans had been registered to vote. In 2000, Miller, who is black, was elected to the Noxubee County Election Commission, and she’s been reelected every four years since. Today, the county of 11,000 is more than 70 percent African American and has a poverty rate nearly three times the national average. “You got a few that’s gonna crawl out of the cotton fields and go on and do something else with their lives, and most of them are gonna leave,” Miller says. For those who stay, Miller does her best to make sure they’re able to vote. In June 2014, Miller and her four fellow election commissioners received a letter threatening legal action if they did not purge voters from the rolls. The letter came from the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), a Virginia-based group that has fashioned itself in recent years as a conservative counterpart to the ACLU. The ACRU requested that the commissioners reduce the number of registered voters by the midterm elections that fall because, it claimed, there were more people registered than there were voting-age citizens in the county. The commissioners wanted to fight back, but lacking the funds to hire an attorney, they decided not to respond and waited to see what would happen next.
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