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June 24, 2014 9:31 AM About Those “Election Observers” In Mississippi

By Ed Kilgore

It’s been easy over the last few days to imagine ugly scenes at Mississippi polling places today, as Tea Party groups—some from out of state—threatened to dispatch “election observers” to make sure Democrats (code for African-Americans) did not illegally or via illegal inducements participate in a Republican runoff. The Mississippi NAACP has pledged to counter this effort with its own observation teams—probably a bit more familiar with the communities in question than, say, True the Vote or the Senate Conservatives Fund.

But if the Secretary of State’s and Attorney General’s offices are to be believed, there’s hardly any basis in Mississippi law for challenging “crossover” voting, and none at all for outside groups to act as “election observers” other than perhaps from television screens in their hotel rooms. They cite the following provisions:

Miss. Code Ann. Sections 23-15-245 and 23-15-577 provide that in primary elections the only persons who may lawfully be within 30 feet of the polls are:
1) Voters approaching the polls, voting, and leaving the polling place
2) The poll managers (pollworkers),
3) One pollwatcher appointed, in writing, by each candidate whose name appears on the ballot

Don’t see any loophole for “out of state wingnuts,” do you?

There’s also been confusion over what would constitute “illegal voting” in Mississippi. Some conservatives have touted an obscure and never-enforced (because it’s impossible to enforce without unconstitutional “loyalty oaths” and such) Mississippi law stating that primaries are limited to people who “intend” to support the party in question in the general election. There’s another provision that allows poll workers (not outside PACs) or candidate representatives to challenge voting by anyone who “openly declares” they have no intention of support the party in November. Again, who’s that going to be? One or two people who got onto TV by so “declaring?”

The only real basis for challenging a “crossover voter” in Mississippi is if someone who voted in the Democratic primary on June 3 tries to vote in the GOP runoff today. And preventing that is both a core and a very easy responsibility for official poll workers (as simple as comparing a name to a list of names).

The Tea Folk are indirectly hinting, of course, that the real threat to “election integrity” is the specter of ward heelers passing out Cochran-supplied cash to voters to get them to the polls (you know how cheaply those people will sell their citizenship rights, right?). But in the unlikely event that were to happen, something tells me it would be in a way that busloads of white suburban “observers” from Houston or somewhere wouldn’t easily detect.

So all this talk amounts to an effort by McDaniel supporters to intimidate minority voters, albeit by threats they are in no position to carry out. And if, as I suspect, the wave of African-American voters for Thad Cochran does not appear when the votes are counted tonight, there will be cries of vindication from Tea groups who as usual will take as very real phenomena (in this case “voter fraud”) that are only in their minds.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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