The Justice Department said Monday it will closely monitor Mississippi's U.S. Senate runoff election for voter intimidation after conservative groups said they would send poll watchers to the state.
“The department is aware of concerns about voter intimidation and is monitoring the situation,” a Justice Department spokesman said in a statement to several media outlets. "Voters that experience problems are encouraged to call 1-800-253-3931.”
The Mississippi secretary of state and the attorney general said they also would monitor polls in Tuesday's Republican runoff.
Tea party organizers backing state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s (R-Miss.) challenge to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said on Sunday they would station “election observers” near polls to ensure that Democrats who already voted in this month's primary follow a law barring them from casting ballots in the Republican runoff, The New York Times reported. Neither Cochran nor McDaniel won 50 percent of the vote in the primary, forcing the runoff.
Cochran, a veteran Senate Republican facing his toughest reelection, has appealed to Democrats for votes in recent days. McDaniel enjoys support from the deeply religious and the intensely fed-up -- a constituency that analysts have said are likely to vote in the runoff.
“If you did vote in the Democratic primary -- and there's files to check and all of that -- we just want to make sure that stuff is being done to make sure that people can't be voting twice in this election,” Adam Brandon, executive vice president of the conservative group FreedomWorks told Talking Points Memo.
FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots launched their so-called voter integrity project after Cochran began reaching out to black Democrats. Mississippi primaries are open to voters regardless of party affiliation.
Election law expert Matthew Steffey told the Times that political action committees are legally allowed to monitor elections, but he questioned the intent of McDaniel’s supporters.
“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,” Steffey said.