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Republican Who Argued for Tossing Out Black Votes Wins Job Overseeing Mississippi Elections

Mississippi Republican Michael Watson shakes hands with Vice President Mike Pence. Photo courtesy Michael Watson campaign.

Editor’s Note: Since Sen. Watson won the election in November, he has announced that he wants to work to end Mississippi’s Jim Crow-era election law that institutes an electoral college-like system for statewide races. The framers of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution wrote that provision in order to weaken black voting power.

Michael Watson, a Republican who once argued that a court should throw out black votes in a Republican primary, has won the race for Mississippi Secretary of State, which oversees state elections, the Associated Press projects.

Watson was an attorney for U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel in 2014. After African Americans helped stop McDaniel from beating incumbent Thad Cochran in a Republican primary that year, Watson was among several McDaniel attorneys who called those black GOP primary votes “illegal and fraudulent” in an unsuccessful bid to get a court to toss them out.

“Many pro-Cochran campaign advertisements in the days leading up to June 24 were clearly targeted to the African American community,” reads one section of the the 2014 McDaniel legal challenge, which Watson co-wrote. “The ten counties where Cochran improved most (from the June 3 primary to the June 24 runoff) were those where blacks make up 69 percent or more of the population.”

The legal challenge claimed that Cochran’s campaign used “race-baiting scare tactics” to get black voters to crossover to help Cochran, like threatening that “welfare benefits” would be cut off if McDaniel won.

Mississippians do not register by party, and anyone is free to vote in whichever party primary they choose.

On the campaign trail, Watson has said he wants to add a citizenship check to voter registration. He said he would flag potential non-citizens when they register to vote, and ask them to come into the secretary of state’s office to prove their citizenship. He has not provided evidence of any non-citizens voting.

In Mississippi, the secretary of state is in charge of training election officials, overseeing election procedures, and oversees the campaign finance system.