Groups work to prevent problems at Miss. polls

Published 2:58 pm Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A memo to Mississippi voters: Don’t wear clothing endorsing a candidate. Bring identification just in case. If your vote is challenged, there are hotlines available for advice.

Voters head to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in a historic presidential election between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain. That race is expected to draw a record number of minority voters as Obama attempts to become the nation’s first black president.

Voters also will decide congressional and judicial races. The most heated contests are between Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and his Democratic challenger, Ronnie Musgrove; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Republican Greg Davis in the 1st District.

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Several groups have taken steps they hope will head off potential Election Day problems, including recruiting hundreds of attorneys to monitor polls and answer calls from confused voters.

Nearly 190,000 new voters have registered in Mississippi, and the groups are trying to educate them about what to expect when they cast ballots, said Yumeka Rushing, director of the Protect the Vote 2008 campaign organized by the state National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mississippi ACLU, Mississippi Center for Justice and the Magnolia Bar Association.

“The paraphernalia issue is going to be huge,” Rushing said Monday. “People haven’t been educated that they can’t wear Obama or McCain T-shirts or hats.”

Voters who show up wearing campaign clothing will be asked to go outside of the polling place and change. In some cases, they may just have to turn their shirts inside out.

Rushing said she’s also concerned about voting machines breaking down on Tuesday, exacerbating the problem of lengthy wait times.

The coalition’s hotline will be manned at the NAACP headquarters in Jackson. The group plans to put at least two roving attorneys in each of Mississippi’s 82 counties.

Carlton Reeves, past president of the Magnolia Bar, said volunteers want to “dispel the notion” that all new voters will need identification at the polls.

However, “what we will say is that you don’t want to leave home without some ID,” Reeves said.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has said some 17,000 first time voters will have to show ID because they mailed their registration without sufficient identification. Those voters will be required to show photo ID, a utility bill, a paycheck or a bank statement at the polls under the state’s interpretation of the federal Help America Vote Act. The state does not have a law requiring voters to show ID.

Hosemann’s staff will be in 30 Mississippi counties to assist circuit clerks or elections commissioners.

The Mississippi Democratic Party said it would deploy attorneys to areas that report polling problems and position election monitors at all polling places.

The Mississippi Republican Party said it was using more poll watchers and attorneys for this election than it had in the past.

“We know tomorrow’s going to be a big turnout,” Cory Adair, political director for the state Republican Party, said Monday. “We feel like we’re prepared.”

Protect the Vote 2008: 1-888-601-VOTE.

Mississippi Democratic Party: 601-969-2913.

Mississippi Republican Party: 601-948-5191.