Be sure to read this. This is about voters' and democracy. And no one's questioning the intelligence of Mississippi's voter, we're questioning the legality of Mississippi's governmor and secretary of state.
I 'clare, if it weren't for the date of the editorial, I think it's 1968. ~ No1KState
September 11, 2008
Mississippi’s Ballot Trick
Mississippi’s governor, Haley Barbour, and its secretary of state have come up with a particularly cynical dirty trick for the November election. Let’s call it: “Where’s the Senate race?”
Defying state law, they have decided to hide a hard-fought race for the United States Senate at the bottom of the ballot, where they clearly are hoping some voters will overlook it. Their proposed design is not only illegal. It shows a deep contempt for Mississippi’s voters.
Republicans have long had a lock on the state’s two Senate seats. But this year, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, has been running close to Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican, in the polls. Mr. Wicker was appointed to the seat by Governor Barbour in late December after Trent Lott stepped down.
Mississippi election law clearly states that federal elections must go at the top of ballots. And the secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, plans to list the state’s other Senate race — incumbent Thad Cochran is running far ahead of his Democratic challenger, Erik Fleming — where it belongs, right below the presidential contest.
But Mr. Hosemann argues that because the Wicker-Musgrove race is a special election to fill the remainder of Mr. Lott’s term, he is free to place it at the bottom, below state and county races.
Mr. Hosemann is insisting on that placement even after the state attorney general’s office notified him that his ballot design violates state law.
Mr. Hosemann’s ballot also violates the Voting Rights Act, which requires that changes in election procedures that could make it harder for people to vote — and this certainly fits that bill — be cleared in advance with the Justice Department.
This is not a dispute over aesthetics. Mr. Hosemann’s decision could easily change the outcome of the Wicker-Musgrove election.
Some voters, including the elderly, the least educated and first-time voters, have more trouble than others navigating complicated ballots. Many of these voters are more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. And, yes, Governor Barbour and Mr. Hosemann are both Republicans.
A local election official is suing to put the Wicker-Musgrove race back where it belongs. The state court judge who is hearing the case on Thursday should order that the Senate race be placed at the top of the ballot. Even if she does the right thing, we fear, that will not end the matter.
The case is likely to wind up, on appeal, in Mississippi’s Supreme Court. Voting rights advocates are worried that the Republican-leaning court will decide the case on partisan lines, rather than on the law.
If the state courts do not provide relief, supporters of fair elections should take the case to federal court. They will need to move quickly since time to prepare ballots is fast running out. 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.