SMOKING GUN?: Hinds County Republican Party chairman Pete Perry holds an example of a sheet from the Democratic poll book in Hinds County that showed three voters as having voted in the Democratic primary June 3, but that notation being crossed out and the correct mark being made in the June 24 column. Perry said claims of voter fraud cited by the tea party and state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s campaign for the Mississippi GOP U.S. Senate nomination are simple clerical errors that were fixed. McDaniel lost to the incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
Will there be a do-over in Mississippi’s Republican U.S. Senate primary race?
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran is claiming victory, while challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel is refusing to concede. McDaniel is alleging thousands of votes were cast illegally for Cochran by Democrats who crossed over during the June 24 runoff.
INCUMBENT: U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran has faced a heated challenge to maintain his seat for a seventh term.
Two election experts say the question is whether it was a free and fair election.
Mississippi is an open-primary state, meaning voters don’t have to declare a party affiliation when registering to vote. However, voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary June 3 are, by law, not allowed to vote in the GOP runoff.
The McDaniel campaign said its volunteers discovered 3,300 votes allegedly cast by voters who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary. The campaign has surveyed fewer than half of Mississippi’s 82 counties.
Election integrity group True the Vote filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and the state Republican Party. The lawsuit, with 12 Mississippians listed as coplaintiffs, was filed in Federal District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi in Oxford.
The lawsuit seeks to compel public inspection of the election records for illegal votes before the secretary of state certifies the election results.
CHALLENGER: State Sen. Chris McDaniel is challenging Cochran for one of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate seats.
Logan Churchill, communications director for True the Vote, said the organization is simply committed to finding voting irregularities on the books.
“If the irregularities are so predominant as to cause doubt in the outcome, which means probably more than 6,700, it may be possible to have a new election,” Churchill said. “We don’t know how many irregularities we’ll find. At this time, it’s about election integrity.”
Gregg A. Phillips, the founder and CEO of Autogov.com, said finding enough votes are deemed illegal would cast serious doubts into the election’s legitimacy.
Phillips worked on former Gov. Kirk Fordice’s campaign and later was a part of the Fordice administration.
“It seems like with all of the vitriol, all of the chaos, all of the noise that’s going on, this election is going to turn on the counting of the illegal votes. Period,” Phillips said.
“If the votes are legally cast, count them. If they aren’t legally cast, challenge them. All Mississippi and, America for that matter, wants to know was there was a free and fair election with a count of all of the ballots that were legally cast.”
He said inconsistencies with the way counties allow poll book inspection necessitated a lawsuit. But the bigger battleground, Phillips said, is absentee ballots. That’s where the greatest chance for possible fraud occurs and could be an end-run around the state’s voter identification laws.
“The challenge with the illegal crossover votes is some counties have let us in there to look at their books. Other counties, we’re not even sure what they’re doing or the writing in the books is illegible,” Phillips said. “The No. 1 thing is the absentee ballot applications (and their accompanying envelopes with addresses). You have different counties that are handling this differently. Some are telling us to file open records requests. Others want us to pay for them.”
Cochran won the June 24 runoff by 6,700 votes, uncertified results show. The race saw an 18.8 percent higher turnout than the June 3 primary, which McDaniel, a two-term state senator, won.