Eight years after the country watched Republicans use every procedural trick possible to stack the deck in their favor during the Florida recount, Republicans in Mississippi are doing the same thing by trying to bury a hotly contested U.S. Senate contest at the bottom of the ballot where thousands of voters won't see it.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour - the former chair of the Republican National Committee - has unilaterally defied Mississippi state law, which clearly states that federal elections belong at the top of the ballot, by ordering that the race between former Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove and interim Senator Roger Wicker be placed after the myriad state and local elections that will also appear on the ballot, even though a race for Mississippi's other Senate seat (currently held by Republican Thad Cochran), will be at the top of the ballot.
Barbour's goal is plain as day - to try and tilt the playing field on behalf of Wicker, who, not coincidentally, he appointed to fill the remainder of Trent Lott's term when Lott resigned last year. It's not Barbour's first time to monkey around with the process either - he did the same thing earlier this year after Lott stepped down.
According to Mississippi law, special elections must be held within 100 days of any vacancy, but holding the election during that timeframe meant it would be held in March on the same day of the presidential and congressional primaries, when thousands of Democrats were turning out to vote in the contested race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Barbour couldn't take the risk that increased turnout would swamp Wicker's candidacy, so he just ignored the law and declared that the election would be held in November instead. The state's Attorney General sued and won at the circuit court level, but Barbour appealed and was ultimately upheld at the state Supreme Court - the same state Supreme Court that may ultimately give the final word on the current ballot question.
The public has a right to be concerned about what's likely to come next. A local elections commissioner has appealed Barbour's latest decision, and a hearing is being held today at the circuit court level. Because the sample ballots were scheduled to be printed yesterday, the circuit court judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping them from going out before the court could hear the case. But, clearly not amused, Barbour appealed to the state Supreme Court last night, who dismissed the temporary restraining order in a decision "filed after business hours, when most state offices were closed."
One office stayed open, however. Staffers in the secretary of state's office scrambled under cover of darkness to send out the sample ballots to local election officials in what the Associated Press described as "a move that could thwart Democrats' attempts to challenge the bottom-of-the-ballot placement." This is an old trick - instead of waiting for the courts to decide the matter, do everything possible to change the facts on the ground. Remember when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped Florida from counting votes, ran out the clock for several days, and then declared the election over because there wasn't enough time left to perform a recount? Haley Barbour clearly does.
Leading up to the Barbour's move, Mississippi papers and the state's Attorney General called on Barbour to put the important Senate election at the top of the ballot where it belongs. The Daily Journal editorial board laid it out in clear terms: "The only plausible reason for anyone to want it near the bottom is the hope that some voters will overlook it."
Now the transparently political decision is garnering national attention. The New York Times today editorialized, "Mississippi's voters have a right to a ballot that conforms with the law -- and that is not designed to win a Senate seat by trickery."
The law couldn't be clearer, and neither could the stakes. Haley Barbour is still acting like he's chair of the RNC , and not a supposedly impartial governor, and is unabashedly ignoring the law to favor his candidate - and he might just get away with it.
Enough is enough.