The Threat of “Election Observers” is Sometimes Good Enough

NYT’s Teddy Schleifer tweets that according to a spokesperson for the Mississippi SOS office, there are no reports of outside folks at the polling places today in the Senate runoff today, as had been threatened.

Part of the reason may be yesterday’s clear guidance that observers in the polling place are not allowed. But a FreedomWorks spokesperson told the NY Times that they’d be outside the polling place watching.

So what gives?  It reminds me of earlier threats. In 2004, for example, the Ohio Republican Party litigated all the way to the Supreme Court over the right to have challengers at the polls (leading Justice Stevens, then Circuit Justice for the 6th Circuit, to deny an injunction barring the challenges in the middle of the night a few hours before polls opened).  But then the challengers never materialized.  As Doug Chapin reminds me, True the Vote made similar threats which did not materialize in 2012.

So what gives? My sense is that election observation requires lots of folks with a paltry payoff. But the threat of election observation/challenging is cheap.  If the idea is to make people think that the polls are going to be a zoo, and voters are going to be hassled and waste a lot of time waiting to vote, they will be deterred.  If you can raise the costs of voting by suggesting challenges in certain areas (say Democratic and/or African American precincts), you might lower turnout without having to assemble anyone to challenge.

Maybe that was the thinking all along in #MSSEN. Or maybe the SOS order was a deterrent.  I don’t know.

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