Almost two months after losing to incumbent Senator Thad Cochran in the Republican primary, State Senator Chris McDaniel has entered the courts to rectify his political trajectory.
McDaniel (R – Ellisville) bested Cochran in the June 3 Republican Primary for U.S. Senate with 49.5 percent of the vote, just shy of the one vote over 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. The June 24 runoff election should have been a blowout for McDaniel but ended with Cochran winning by 7,667 votes. Although no official analysis has been completed, most agree that Cochran won because of his campaign’s focus on the African-American communities in the Delta and Hinds County areas.
The New York Times has reported, “The surge in turnout was clearest in overwhelmingly black precincts; turnout sometimes increased by more than 3,000 percent over the initial Republican primary.”
McDaniel has said the election was stolen from the true Republicans, claiming that the election was plagued with illegal and irregular votes by Democrats invading the GOP primary. For weeks McDaniel complained about election fraud in various interviews, press releases and campaign e-mails, in which he would ask his supporters to help fund his legal challenge.
On Aug. 4 McDaniel started an official challenge to the June 24 primary results with the State Republican Executive Committee. Mitch Tyner, McDaniel’s lawyer, has said that after poring over election results, the campaign has found over 15,000 votes that were cast that should not have been cast.
According to the 380-page official challenge, McDaniel wants “Hinds County results from the June 24 primary runoff be invalidated and removed from the statewide count because of extensive vote fraud and election law violations permitted by the Hinds County Republican executive committee.” He also wants other counties that have widespread vote fraud and violations to be invalidated.
His lawyers have concluded that if the counties are excluded from the count, then McDaniel is unmistakably the nominee elected by the majority of the lawful Republican Party voters, and he wants to be named the nominee. However, if this is unable to happen, McDaniel would be satisfied with a new Republican Party primary runoff election that requires the Republican Party implement proceeding to prevent ‘party raiding,’ as it violates Mississippi law they claim, despite the fact that Mississippi voters do not register by party and have open primaries.
The 52-member SREC elected to decline to hear the challenge. “Our 52-member volunteer Republican State Executive Committee has been asked to spend just five hours listening to legal arguments and then overturn a United States Senate primary in which over 360,000 Mississippians cast votes,” said Joe Nosef, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party, in a response to the challenge and a letter sent to Nosef by Tyner.
He continued, saying it is neither prudent nor possible in a single day to make such a monumental decision. Instead, he said the only way to ensure election integrity is to have a proper, public review of this matter through the judicial system in a court of law.
On Aug. 20, Judge Hollis McGhee, a senior-status, former Southwest Mississippi Chancery judge appointed by State Supreme Court Justice William Waller Jr., heard an initial hearing of the challenge.
According to The Clarion Ledger, in the initial hearing, McGhee denied McDaniel’s request to put an injunction on the printing of the general election ballots until the challenge is resolved. However, McGhee agreed with Cochran’s lawyers, who argued that Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is not a party in the lawsuit and should therefore not be prevented from performing his duties such as printing the general election ballots in a timely fashion.
The Clarion Ledger also reported that on Aug. 28, McGhee will hear the Cochran campaign’s motion to dismiss the challenge lawsuit because they claim that McDaniel did not file the challenge within a deadline of 20 days of the runoff, as based off a 1950s court ruling. The McDaniel campaign is confident that it has missed no deadline. McGhee has given the McDaniel campaign until Aug. 26 to officially respond to the Cochran campaign’s dismissal motion.
While nothing is certain, many election law experts are less than enthusiastic that McDaniel will be able to achieve the result he wants. Rick Hansen, political science professor at the University of California-Irvine, has written on his blog, electionlawblog.org, that “despite all the talk of massive fraud by the McDaniel campaign for weeks, there is virtually nothing substantiating fraud alleged in the complaint.”
McGhee has set the trial to begin on Sept. 16 at 9 a.m. He has said the trial will be over by Oct. 3 at the latest.