The 2003 Mississippi election results were pockmarked by dirty tricks and general incompetency that has left one local Senate race in controversy and regular Mississippians feeling like they needed a rough loofah and a long, hot shower to shed the residue.
Insistent phone calls filled with nasty accusations and "push-polling" were perhaps the darkest tricks played in the last hours before the polls opened. Phones in select neighborhoods were ringing off the hook with the callers posing as pollsters—until they ascertained that the callee was planning to vote for their opponent. Then the tricks came out. In the district attorney's race, push-pollsters reportedly accused incumbent Faye Peterson of accepting donations from the attorneys of Medgar Evers' killer Byron De La Beckwith, according to a resident of Medgar Evers Boulevard. Others told Peterson supporters that their candidate had "worked to release convicted criminals from sentencing," as reported by the Mississippi Link.
Around the state, Republicans resorted to many of the same tricks that they pulled in the 2000 elections in Florida: videotaping voters inside and outside precincts, bringing in 1,300 "poll watchers" to gaze intently as voters in 2,400 precincts made their choices (the Dems had 600), and writing down voters' names and asking for addresses—all ways of intimidating voters, especially African-Americans.
In Hinds County, one Republican election commissioner hung laminated signs, with black and red ink, in African-American precincts saying that people who live in an apartment or who have a post office box must provide their apartment number or post office number, which is illegal. "It was a way of getting voter ID without asking for voter ID," said Jason Pollon, a Democratic attorney who worked with the group Protect and Promote the Vote to watch for voter intimidation on Election Day. "It stinks to hell and back."
By noon on Election Day, Secretary of State Eric Clark had faxed a letter to the attorney general and election commissioners around the state, warning them of the improprieties. "It is apparent that one potential motive for this effort by some poll watchers is to intimidate Mississippians who are attempting to exercise their right to vote," he wrote. As for the videotaping, "This is a direct violation of the law and constitutes a per se case of intimidation."
Pollan said that, oddly, after Department of Justice representatives showed up at a Lowndes County precinct to check into videotaping reports, the poll-watchers simply turned off the camera and left it sitting there, still capable of intimidation.
State GOP Chairman Jim Herring responded that party reps were only videotaping voters who they believed were being brought to the polls in vehicles owned by state or federal agencies. "Obviously, you will agree that such use would constitute improper diversion of taxpayer funds," he wrote Clark. Democratic Chairman Rickey Cole lambasted the GOP: "Mr. Herring's letter illuminates the clear difference between the two parties. We in the Democratic Party seek full and fair elections."
As we go to press, the District 29 Senate election was just decided, due to some serious ballot mishandling, including the input of 546 paper ballots into the election machines, a violation of state law, by Precinct 94 poll manager Alvin McGowan. Democratic challenger Dewayne Thomas has been declared the winner by 40 votes over Sen. Richard White. Just in case you think your vote doesn't count.
I'm curious--I thought MS had a record gubernatorial turnout and that Musgrove actually got more votes in 2003 than he did in 1999. Where can we find the numbers on the depressed turnout you're talking about?
Becky, I heard a panel discussion yesterday about the fact that the black vote in much of the state, other than Hinds, was low. Hinds, we're happy to report, was higher than usual. We're proud of our own on that one.
Mississippi did have a record turnout -- that is still pathetically low, and Musgrove did get more votes than last time.
Fortunately, it sounds like they caught much of the polling trickery earlier enough to keep it from doing much harm. But it will always befuddle me that there are people out there, of whatever party, who would actually try to intimidate voters out of voting. There's your character for you.
Beckly, I think Philip posted a link where you can get MS election results on the "And the Winners Are..." thread. Here's a link to handy Census Bureau report on voting. It gives stats on eligible voters vs. actual voters as well as voters broken down by race, gender, ethnicity, and state: