JACKSON, Miss. — NAACP officials said they will send monitors to the polls in Mississippi on Tuesday to make sure black voters aren't intimidated when they try to cast ballots in the state's high-profile Senate race.
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, said he's received reports that Tea Party activists and other groups may send representatives to predominantly black precincts to challenge voters casting ballots in the GOP runoff election between Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel.
Johnson said voter intimidation of any form should not be tolerated.
"We'll be on the lookout,'' he said.
Johnson held a conference call Monday night about the issue with presidents of local NAACP branches.
"Only poll workers have the right to question a voter, and questions from anyone else will be seen as a form of voter intimidation,'' he said.
Mississippi Secretary of State's office and the state Attorney General's office said state officials will monitor polling places Tuesday. Officials sent out guidelines Monday for poll watchers, including how far they must stand outside polling sites.
Officials said state law makes no provision for political action committees or other outside groups to place "election observers" at polling places.
Black voters could be a key factor in Tuesday's Senate runoff, one of the most competitive races in the country, political experts say.
Traditionally, black voters tend to vote Democratic. But in Mississippi, voters who didn't vote in the June 3 GOP primary or Democratic primary can vote in Tuesday's runoff.
Johnson said he couldn't gauge potential turnout.
McDaniel's supporters say Cochran is desperate and is reaching out to Democrats for support.
"It's unfortunate,'' McDaniel said. "The Republican Party has a primary for Republicans. That's the way it's designed, that's the way it's supposed to be. ... By reaching out to liberal Democrats (Cochran) has confirmed what we've always known — that he doesn't have our best interests at heart.''
Cochran has touted his conservative credentials and hasn't overtly courted black voters, political experts said.
Kaye Allen, a McDaniel supporter who will be a poll watcher Tuesday, said "poll watchers have been around forever. It's legal.'' Allen, who will rotate between precincts, denied that poll workers are trying to intimidate voters.
"It's just the integrity of the vote,'' she said.
Democrats can vote in the primary, but it should be for a candidate they plan to support in November, Allen said.
The NAACP and other civil rights groups have long organized "election protection'' programs to ensure voters have access to the polls. Johnson said the NAACP chapters in Mississippi will step up those efforts Tuesday.
The NAACP and other groups also have challenged the state's new voter ID law, which they said could disenfranchise black and elderly voters.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has defended the voter ID program and touted its success in the June 3 GOP primary. He said only 300 voters weren't allowed to vote because they didn't have an ID. The state has issued free IDs.
"Disenfranchisement of one voter is one too many to have — 300 is troubling,'' Johnson said.