Tea Party to Use Poll Watchers in Mississippi GOP Runoff

Monday, 23 Jun 2014 08:25 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Sen. Thad Cochran's efforts to mobilize black Democrats to vote for him against state Sen. Chris McDaniel in Tuesday's Republican runoff election has led McDaniel supporters to field election observers, The New York Times reported.

Democrats who did not already participate in the June 3 Mississippi primary are allowed to vote in the Cochran-McDaniel Republican runoff under state law.

The 76-year-old Cochran, the most senior Republican in the Senate, is fighting for his political life against McDaniel, 41, reaching out to liberals and black Democrats.

Backed by the Senate Conservatives Fund, tea party groups supporting McDaniel will position poll watchers to observe Cochran's voter turnout operation. Most will be state residents trained to "observe whether the law is being followed," said J. Christian Adams, a consultant and former Justice Department official, according to the Times.

Non-state residents will also be brought in. "The laws in Mississippi are unusually open to poll watching from the outside," Ken Cuccinelli,  the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund, told the Times. "We're going to take full advantage of that and we're going to lay eyes on Cochran's effort to bring Democrats in. And of course, if they voted in primaries, that's illegal."

Mississippi College law professor Matthew Steffey told the newspaper the presence of poll watchers could scare off potential voters. "Some folks think this is not really about legal challenges to individual ballots, but about dissuading or in some cases intimidating voters from coming to the polls to begin with," he said.

At least one tea party activist has charged that Cochran's campaign hired activists to pay African American voters to cast their ballots on Tuesday for the incumbent. The charge was dismissed as "crazy talk" by Cochran strategist Stuart Stevens, the Times reported.

Under state law voters must bring a valid photo ID card with them to the polls. If they forget their photo ID, they can vote by affidavit ballot, with a photo ID, at the circuit clerk's office within five days of the runoff. Voter IDs can also be obtained at the clerk's office, according to the Natchez Democrat.

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