Nicole Browne. Photo by Martin Boling


As early voters wrapped around the block in downtown Bloomington last fall, Nicole Browne, the first Black woman elected as Monroe County’s Clerk of Courts, often walked out to greet them. She pointed out where they could grab a coffee or find a restroom as they waited, then thanked them for exercising their civic duty.

Browne gets choked up when she talks about the work of overseeing the county’s elections, particularly in a time when our democracy has been challenged. “I look at this as my contribution to the civil rights movement,” she says. “Clearly the importance of a well-run election is paramount—helping voters to have confidence that the election is aboveboard and run with integrity.”

Browne, 52, grew up in a single parent household in Gary, Indiana, at a time when it was considered the murder capital of the U.S., she says. “There were not a lot of resources, and certainly not a lot of
the support networks that many parents are more fortunate to have today. I was incredibly fortunate to have people who saw things in me … and tried to nurture them as best they could without stepping on the toes of a single mom trying to raise two kids.”

She came to Indiana University to study criminal justice, intending to become a juvenile probation officer. After putting herself through school, Browne remained in Bloomington and worked for three local law enforcement agencies and the state government before “serendipity and circumstances presented an opportunity that has proven to be life-changing for me.”

While working on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, Browne met Linda Robbins, the former county clerk, who invited Browne to become her chief deputy in 2012. When Robbins stepped down for health reasons, Browne was appointed, then elected to the role. “I do feel like this is my niche. It feels like home.”

Of the national election outcome, “two words come to mind—lovely and bittersweet,” says Browne. While Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were her personal “dream ticket,” “the last few years have shown us how far we have to go in not taking the privileges and rights that we have for granted.”

Browne wrote a thank you note to Stacey Abrams for her work on voter enfranchisement in Georgia. “How incredible to use her platform to lift everyone’s ability to have a voice,” she says. “Abrams is one of many people who have shone a light on how important it is that we just try to make a difference where we are. I try to get up every day in a state of grace and a place of humility to see what I can do for my community. I’ve got an amazing team here. So that’s what I do and I hope it’s meaningful to Monroe County.”