While incumbent Thad Cochran will be the likely candidate to face Democrat and former Rep. Travis Childers this fall, state senator and Mississippi Republican U.S. Senate primary candidate Chris McDaniel is not throwing in the towel – and checking for voting irregularities across the state.
McDaniel’s ultimate goal is to get a new election by showing that people who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary also voted in the June 24 Republican runoff.
“This affects every voter in Mississippi,” said Mitchell Tyner, a member of McDaniel’s legal team, at a July 16 press conference from his Jackson office. “The evidence is still coming in.”
Tyner said he has filed 20 writs of mandamus, which would give him access to a county’s poll book with no redacted information. Tyner said he had enough evidence to make a formal challenge and that crossover voting would be part of it. He filed the motion for reconsideration, hearing, and clarification before the state’s highest court on Friday. Friday’s motion included evidence of the costs a candidate would have if he or she were to gain access to the election records if the court’s ruling was allowed to stand.
That examination process took a hit when the state Supreme Court ruled on July 17 that Harrison County Circuit Clerk Gayle Powell does not have to provide unredacted copies of the poll books from the June 24 runoff, according to The Sun Herald.
“After due consideration, we can discern no legal requirement that poll books should be included in the contents of the ballot boxes, see Miss. Code Ann. 23-15-591, nor are any allegations before us that the poll books at issue here were found in the Harrison County ballot boxes,” the ruling stated. “Poll books instead are official records of all persons qualified to vote in a particular county and properly preserved and maintained by the circuit clerk.”
The ruling went on to state that access to the information is controlled by the state’s public records act and that clerks must redact voters’ Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, date of birth and age before someone else makes use of the records.
With two of the justices absent, Tyner said he wanted to also present an oral argument before the court.
Despite the setback, McDaniel is undeterred in his goal to gain access to the records.
“A candidate for office in Mississippi should not have to raise $100,000 to verify an election was carried out legally in every single one of Mississippi’s 82 counties,” he said. “We are confident the full panel of Justices will do the right thing, and we remain undeterred in our efforts to gain access to the election records in the counties where we have not been granted access to records thus far.”
While McDaniel has a site for visitors to contribute to his legal challenge, he is also getting financial support from the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has raised $93,700 toward the challenge, according to its website.
Two days before that decision in another coastal county, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Robert Krebs ordered circuit clerk Joe Martin to allow the McDaniel campaign access for 12 days to the poll books for June 3 and the June 24 runoff.
State Sen. Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula) argued the case for McDaniel.
According to The Mississippi Press, Martin said there were 24 crossover votes, residents who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and June 24 in the Republican runoff.
“This ruling will allow a full examination of the election material,” Watson told the newspaper. “You can’t determine if an illegal vote was cast without seeing the poll books.”
Austin Barbour, senior advisor for the Cochran campaign, said they are focusing on the November election.
“Today, the McDaniel campaign specifically questioned the integrity of the electoral process, of the party’s leadership here in our state, and our state government’s leadership without presenting one bit of evidence,” he said in response to the press conference by McDaniel’s legal team. “As of today, we are focusing on winning the general election in November and moving away from the circus. We have no control of what Sen. McDaniel does, but we can control what we do. “
McDaniel made stops in Pearl, Tupelo, Olive Branch and D’Iberville to speak more about his post-election ballot examination and possible challenge.
“We’re not just trying to waste a bunch of money and time fighting a court challenge,” McDaniel told WLOX-TV July 19 in Pearl. “We are trying to clean up the system and that’s one of the primary reasons we are fighting for this.”
While McDaniel might have won one of two recent suits, the litigation has angered Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
“Filing lawsuits against circuit clerks who are clearly following the law are both a waste of time and taxpayer money,” he said in a news release from his office. “Voters have a right to have their personal information protected. It is time to address the real issue of this election and move on as a state.”
The results for both party primaries have been certified accepted by the Secretary of State’s office.
Both the Cochran and McDaniel campaigns examined over 25,000 ballots in Hinds County from the runoff and there were 300 to 350 questionable votes found. Hinds County GOP Chairman Pete Perry told The Clarion-Ledger that McDaniel’s campaign expected to find 1,500 questionable ballots.
(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)
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