Today, Mississippi's state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about whether state election officials acted improperly by putting the hotly-contested race to replace Sen. Trent Lott (R) at the bottom of the ballot.

Earlier this year, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann -- with Gov. Haley Barbour's approval -- put the special election between Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican, and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, near the bottom of the ballot. Democrats believe that Republicans made the decision to de-emphasize a race that shows Musgrove within shooting distance of winning.

Democratic state Attorney General John Hood says the move violated state law, which requires national elections to go at the top of the ballot. And now Democrats nationally are arguing the decision violated the Voting Rights Act, because of the risk of confusing and therefore disenfranchising voters. As Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) stated yesterday:

"Attempts to disenfranchise any of our nation's eligible voters this November, including those in Mississippi, simply cannot be tolerated," Conyers said in a statement. "The Mississippi governor does not get to change the rules when the race is not going his way. I am asking that the Department of Justice intervene in this blatant violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

Also at issue is the fact that the Voting Rights Act requires states like Mississippi to clear major election changes with the Department of Justice. As the Clarion-Ledger reports:

Mississippi is one of nine states that must submit proposed electoral changes to the Justice Department for pre-clearance because the state has a history of discrimination. Mississippi has the highest percentage of black voters - more than 37 percent - of any state in the nation.

The decision to place the Wicker-Musgrove race at the bottom of the ballot was never submitted to the Justice Department for approval, a department spokesman, Scot Montrey, said last week.

"Basically, we're not involved," Montrey said.
Gov. Barbour says that the ballot change didn't need to go through the DOJ because it is "consistent with federal and state laws." But Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) disagrees:
"This is an all-too-familiar reminder of the dirty tricks and voter suppression tactics of long ago," Thompson said. "What we have here is a clear intent to confuse voters. The purpose of our voting rights laws is to protect vulnerable populations against this type of gutter politics."