Racial politics churn Miss. GOP Senate runoff

Mississippi voters do not register by party, and state law says the only people prohibited from voting in the Republican runoff Tuesday are those who voted in the Democratic primary June 3.

But there’s potential for confusion as the tea party groups cite another Mississippi law that says a voter can participate in a party primary only if he intends to support that party’s nominee in the general election. A federal appeals court ruled in 2008 that the law is unenforceable. The ruling came in a case in which Democrats sought to block Republicans from crossing over in primaries.

A McDaniel supporter filed a lawsuit Monday in McDaniel’s home county citing that law, but it was not clear if a judge would consider the suit before polls open Tuesday.

Mississippi’s attorney general, a Democrat, and secretary of state, a Republican, issued a joint statement Monday saying: “A person lawfully in the polling place 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.”

About 9 out of 10 white voters in Mississippi said they supported Republican nominee Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, and more than 9 of 10 black voters said they supported Democratic President Barack Obama, according to an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and other news organizations. Still, Cochran is supported by some black Democrats, including Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs and state Sen. Willie Simmons.

Simmons told the AP on Monday that he voted in the Democratic primary June 3 and can’t vote in the GOP runoff Tuesday, but he has campaigned for Cochran by making phone calls and sending letters to black churches citing the former Appropriations Committee chairman’s support of Head Start and historically black universities.

“Sen. Cochran himself did not even ask me to support him,” Simmons said. “I volunteered to support him because of the things he has done in the Senate.”

Simmons said that while some black Mississippians quietly vote for Republicans in general elections, they might be reluctant to publicly declare their intentions by going to a Republican table to request a ballot on primary day.

“This election is going to put them in a position where they have to do two things that is unusual for them,” Simmons said. “First, they have to pull out an ID and show it. And, second, they have to vote in a Republican runoff.”

Simmons said if a poll watcher cites the unenforceable law about not voting in a primary unless intending to support the nominee in the general election, “that could lead to intimidation.”

Kansas City Star
6/23/14