NAACP Challenges Tea Party to Staring Contest Over Mississippi Poll Watching

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There are three odd additions to today's Republican primary in Mississippi: black Democrats, Tea Party poll watchers and NAACP monitors to watch the poll watchers.

After incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran reached out to black voters ahead of his run off primary against Chris McDaniel, a coalition of conservative groups launched a "voter integrity project" to monitor the polls. For some this inspires parallels to voter intimidation efforts, and in response the Mississippi NAACP said it would send member to monitor the polls for intimidation, according to USA Today"We'll be on the lookout," Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi branch, said during a conference call. "Only poll workers have the right to question a voter, and questions from anyone else will be seen as a form of voter intimidation."

Mississippi's Attorney General and Secretary of State offices released an advisory for all the poll watchers, noting that the only people legally allowed to be within 30 feet of a polling place are voters, poll workers, and "one pollwatcher appointed, in writing, by each candidate whose name appears on the ballot ... There is no authority in state law for a PAC or other outside group to place 'election observers' in Mississippi polling places."

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The advisory also clarifies what constitutes illegal voting. In addition to voting in the Republican runoff after voting in the Democratic primary, Republicans have pointed out that the law states that voters can only vote in the primary if they intend to support the party nominee in the general election. According to election officials, people not excluded from the voting area "may challenge a voter based on party loyalty only if the voter openly declares he does not intend to support the nominees of the party whose primary the voter is participating in."

On the ground, Laura Van Overschelde, the head of the Mississippi Tea Party, told Politico that she'd been denied access to the public record of absentee ballots and heard complaints of Democrats calling Mississippians to vote. “This is a historic situation never have we seen one party try to buy off the other party’s voters for their own purposes,” she said. As for actual voter fraud incidents, there weren't many voters in the mostly black districts Cochran reached out to. According to The New York Times, most poll places reported seeing "single digit" turnout numbers. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.