Eli Geffin


To followers of Mississippi politics, the 2014 Mississippi Republican Senate primary election was an unusual one. Thad Cochran, who had represented Mississippi in the U.S. Senate for almost forty years, was challenged from the right by Chris McDaniel, a younger candidate backed by many far-right voters and interest groups.

Faced with an existential political crisis, Cochran employed a novel strategy. He began to court Mississippi’s historically marginalized black voters. Black voters in Mississippi had conventionally leaned overwhelmingly Democratic, which is why they had typically been ignored by Republican candidates until 2014. Strategizing that his best path to victory was to expand the electorate, the Cochran campaign began encouraging black voters to participate in the Republican primary by voting for him, who, he argued, would better represent their interests than the more conservative McDaniel.

Sensing this strategic threat, the McDaniel campaign, and the political actors who supported it, began a counteroffensive. Part of this effort was the deployment of “poll watchers” to observe the operations of polling places on Election Day and to ensure Mississippi law was being followed.

This Note attempts to uncover the legal standard federal courts use in assessing the constitutionality of poll watcher statutes, to analyze the current landscape of these statutes among the states, and to create a model statute which balances the concerns of both sides of the debate.

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