/Michael Watson, candidate for state elections chief, sought to toss African American votes in 2014 Senate election

Michael Watson, candidate for state elections chief, sought to toss African American votes in 2014 Senate election

McDaniel had Watson as one of three lawyers that he hired in summer 2014 to file an election challenge. The claim was that Thad Cochran’s campaign convinced (and at times coerced) African Americans to vote for McDaniel during the runoff. “The issue about race baiting in politics — it’s gross. Watson stated this at a press conference less than two weeks after he and McDaniel lawyers filed the challenge. “The progress we have made, especially in my generation to see the Barbour machine, these PACs do the same thing they did in this election spits at the face of what we’ve done. That has to be addressed… It is wrong to see conservative Republicans tear down this state. Watson was referring to former Republican Governor. Haley Barbour was a political power broker, whose family is still influential in state campaigns. Austin Barbour and Henry Barbour, Barbour’s nephews, helped coordinate Cochran’s 2014 campaign. Austin Barbour, the current Southern District’s commissioner for public service, is currently advising Watson’s Republican opponent, Sam Britton. (Editor’s note: Gov. Haley Barbour was a Mississippi Today donor. The Republican U.S. Senate primary of 2014 was a huge success. McDaniel (the outspoken tea party favorite) tried to defeat Cochran who is an older Washington stateman and long-serving senator. McDaniel lost to Cochran in a runoff three weeks after he had received more votes than Cochran, but not enough to prevent a second round. Watson, a Pascagoula attorney, is a founding member the Senate Conservative Caucus. He has been long considered an up-and-coming Republican Party figure. Watson was ranked second by the Washington, D.C.-based, nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation as the most conservative senator, higher than McDaniel. McDaniel hired Watson, along with lawyers Mitch Tyner & Steve Thornton. They created a challenge to the election results on the basis of race. Watson was present at a Jackson press conference that McDaniel hosted on the day of the filing of the challenge. Watson stated in a statement to Mississippi Today that “It’s not secret where people stood in that election five years ago.” Watson said, “But the election within two weeks is what should you be focused on, because I’m the only candidate that understands the law, duties, and office requirements.” Watson also praised his endorsements from conservative groups and officials, such as Gov. Phil Bryant criticized his Republican opponent in the Republican primaries. Britton declined comment to this story. McDaniel Primary challenge (Text). McDaniel’s attorneys filed a 425-page challenge to Jones County Circuit Court on Aug. 4, 2014. They argued through documents that McDaniel should win the primary because of “voting irregularities”, including African American “crossover voters.” The McDaniel lawyers cited radio ads and social media posts by African Americans that praised Cochran for his support of African American cities, historically black colleges, and universities. McDaniel’s ads suggested that McDaniel wouldn’t serve Washington’s best interests, according to the attorneys. McDaniel stated to the Associated Press that McDaniel had placed advertising on radio and fliers stating that if I was elected, people would lose their right to vote. McDaniel told the Associated Press in July 2014 that McDaniel’s lawyers had advertised on the radio and distributed flyers that said “if I was elected welfare benefits would be cut off.” They cited a broad state law which stated that since African American voters tend to vote for Democrats in Mississippi, they should have their votes thrown out because they won’t support the Republican nominee in general elections. McDaniel’s legal team wasn’t subtle in their court filing. McDaniel lawyers wrote that many pro-Cochran ads in the days leading to the June 24 (runoff), were clearly directed at the African American community in one section. “The ten counties in which Cochran performed best (from the June 3, primary to the June 24, runoff) were those in which blacks comprise 69 percent or greater of the population,” McDaniel attorneys wrote in one section of the legal challenge. The McDaniel challenge stated that if the Hinds County results were included in the statewide results they would contaminate every runoff election. They destroy the integrity and make it impossible to determine the will of qualified Republican voters. “The Hinds County results should be excluded from the overall results,” said McDaniel. A Mississippi judge dismissed McDaniel’s lawsuit in less than a month. In October, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied McDaniel’s appeal. Watson was so involved in the case that he became visibly emotional when discussing it publicly. Watson, cracking his voice, said that he was grateful to Chris McDaniel for taking on the challenge. “I’m grateful for all the volunteers who have canvassed all of 82 counties (in order to find voting irregularities),” Watson said at a press conference. Watson is now pursuing the role of overseeing all Mississippi elections. Until recently, he was required to apply for federal Justice Department approval to amend voting laws. Preclearance, also known as the Voting Rights Act 1965, was established to protect African Americans living in states or other jurisdictions that have a history of discrimination based on race. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision removed the preclearance requirement and allowed states to make changes to election laws with little oversight from the federal courts. This ruling allowed Mississippi’s voter identification law to go into effect. The 2014 Mississippi primaries saw voter ID being enforced. The 2019 U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave states the authority to redraw legislative district to favor political parties. After three African Americans sued the secretary-of-state and other officials for discriminatory boundaries, the Mississippi federal courts ordered the Republican-led Legislature this year to redraw the state Senate district. “A candidate’s approach to voting, especially for the secretary-of-state, is very important,” stated Corey Wiggins (executive director of the Mississippi NAACP). “Any Mississippian should ask questions and want someone in the office with a values-based system that allows everyone to vote. Watson continues to focus on other “illegal” forms of voting in his 2019 secretary-of-state campaign. According to Watson’s campaign website, he proposed that Mississippi conduct background checks when people register to vote. He also wants the Secretary of state to manage the state’s driver license bureaus, instead of the Department of Public Safety. Watson stated to WCBI that “What we have seen in the last eight to twelve months, in Texas and California, illegal immigrants are appearing on voter rolls.” He did not provide any evidence. “It’s something we want to address here, Mississippi,” Watson stated in June. He also co-sponsored legislation to tighten voting procedures. One bill would have created a closed primary system. This would have required Mississippians to register as members of a political party and barred them from voting in the primary of another party. Watson filed another bill to “authorize procedures for full investigation and detection election law violations.” Watson filed these bills each legislative session, from 2016 to 2019. None of these bills were ever considered by committee meetings.