Here's a story that sounds way too familiar: Mississippi conservatives will be watching the polls during Tuesday's primary, to make sure black Democrats aren't breaking any voting laws. Following incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran's outreach to black voters in his bid to ward off a primary challenger, a coalition of conservatives groups backing his Tea Party opponent Chris McDaniel have formed a "voter integrity project" to "observe whether the law is being followed,” as the coalition's advisor told The New York Times.
The Senate Conservative Fund, FreedomWorks, and the Tea Party Patriots have teamed up to send "election observers" to watch the polls in areas where Cochran has outreached to black Democrats. “The laws in Mississippi are unusually open to poll watching from the outside,” Ken Cuccinelli, the Senate Conservatives Fund's president (and former Virginia governor hopeful), 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.”
In Mississippi, voters don't have to register for a party, so registered voters of any affiliation can vote in the run-off election as long as they didn't vote in the June 3 Democratic primary. And as Philip Bump explained at The Washington Post, voter turnout at the Democratic primary was low, and McDaniel didn't do well in mostly black counties. Cochran, who came in second to McDaniel in the Republican primary earlier this month, knows that, and is reaching out to black Democrats to give him an edge in Tuesday's runoff. Cue the voter integrity project. They'll need McDaniel's permission to contest any votes, but under Mississippi law they're allowed to stake out the polls.
So how will "election observers" be able to tell the difference between black Democrats who are voting legally and black Democrats who aren't? We asked the three organizations behind the voter integrity project what they'll be looking for, and we'll update this post if we receive any responses.
What is clear is the motivation behind this: black votes are a threat to Tea Party ambition. Matthew Steffey, an election law expert at the Mississippi College School of Law, told The Times that some people “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.” Meanwhile, over the weekend a woman at a Tea Party Express rally implied that Cochran is paying black people to vote for him, according to the Times, which Cochran's campaign called "crazy talk."
What conservatives aren't acknowledging is that the enemy of your enemy is kind of your political ally. As David Weigel at Slate noted, while Cochran hasn't been the best ally to black voters, he has funneled federal funds into the state, creating jobs and supporting local programs. McDaniel is completely against that kind of government spending, and, along with bragging about his "mamacita" outreach and threatening to stop paying taxes if slavery reparations pass, he comes off as the greater of two political evils. The fact that his political allies are going to be watching the polls on Tuesday only seems support that perception.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.