JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court said yesterday that it won’t reconsider its ruling that voters’ birthdates must be redacted before poll books are opened for public inspection.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel had asked the nine justices to hold a hearing and reconsider the ruling they issued last week. Yesterday, the court said no. Two justices did not participate in the ruling and three said they would have granted a hearing.
McDaniel wants to see full information in poll books, including birthdates, as he prepares to challenge his 7,667-vote loss to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the June 24 Republican primary runoff.
McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch said Wednesday that the campaign was still gathering evidence of potential wrongdoing to prepare to file an election challenge. During a July 16 news conference, McDaniel attorneys said a challenge could be filed within the following 10 days.
In a separate development, a federal judge spent more than eight hours yesterday listening to testimony and arguments about a lawsuit also dealing with access to voters’ birthdates on poll books. U.S. District Judge Nancy F. Atlas of Texas, who was assigned to the case after federal judges in Mississippi recused themselves, did not indicate when she might rule.
“I’m not here as a popularity contest,” Atlas said late in the day. “I have no horse in this race on the merits of any election that ever happens in Mississippi.”
The federal lawsuit was filed by 22 Mississippi residents and a Texas-based group called True the Vote. It seeks access to information in nine Mississippi counties and from the secretary of state and the state Republican Party.
Atlas said the hearing yesterday was not to determine whether fraud occurred in the June 3 primary or the June 24 runoff in Mississippi. Rather, she said, she was focusing on the narrow question of whether the general public has a legal right to see birthdates on voter rolls.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys said a federal law that dates to the early 1990s, the National Voter Registration Act, specifies that birthdates are part of the public record.
Defense attorneys, including those representing the secretary of state and the Mississippi Republican Party, said the federal Freedom of Information Act, which is older, specifies that birthdates are not subject to public disclosure.
Volunteers from True the Vote went to many Mississippi counties in early July to seek access to voter rolls, which are master lists of registered voters in each county; poll books, which precinct workers use on election days to mark names of those who have voted; and other material.
California resident Ellen Swensen, a True the Vote volunteer, testified yesterday that she requested, but did not get, information from Leake, Covington and Jones counties. She said she cited the National Voter Registration Act to back up her request for voter rolls that include birthdates. Swensen said True the Vote recently spent $30 to purchase information about 18 million voters in California.
Atlas said that while True the Vote leaders might have the best intentions to protect voters’ privacy, others could be “fraudsters” who would use birthdates to steal people’s identity. Atlas also said a database with information about millions of voters “sounds like the NSA” and such a database could be vulnerable to hackers.
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