Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel officially announced the beginning of a legal effort to challenge the results of his primary fight against six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran. The campaign formally filed a challenge with the Mississippi Republican Party’s executive committee, the official first step to mounting a legal challenge. On June 24, Cochran beat McDaniel by more than 7,600 votes and those results were certified unanimously by the party’s executive committee. McDaniel never conceded — instead he almost immediately began accusing his opponent of “stealing” the election because Cochran was able to woo Democrats, specifically African American voters in the Magnolia State, to support him in the run-off. This is legal, but not if the Democrats also voted in their primary three weeks earlier. Since then, McDaniel volunteers have been combing through voter rolls, and in a press conference Monday, McDaniel’s attorney Mitch Tyner said they have found 3,500 cross-over voters, 9,500 votes they believe have irregularities, and 2,275 absentee ballots they also believe were “improperly cast.” Tyner said they believe they have 15,000 votes “cast that should not have been.” “We are not asking for a new election, we are simply asking that the Republican Party actually recognize the person who won the run-off election,” Tyner said.
Tyner, who called Monday “a day we have all been waiting for,” said their evidence shows McDaniel “clearly won” the run-off by 25,000 votes. He claims the number comes from post-election polling conducted that showed 71 percent of the Democrats who voted in the run-off did not plan to support the Republican in the general election. A Mississippi state law says a voter in the run-off must have the intent to cast the ballot for the same person in the general election.
Mississippi election law expert Matthew Steffey said this statute is “unenforceable because you can’t quiz individual voters on what their intentions are in the voting booth because it violates their right to vote anonymously in a polling place,” noting the concept would be “inconceivable in a court of law,” and “unprecedented in American politics.” Steffey, a professor of election law at Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson, says the McDaniel team is “playing a very weak hand.”
“Lawyers have to make the case they can make, not the case they would like to make,” Steffey said in an interview with ABC News. “And the very fact that we are talking about polls which Sen. McDaniel must know, certainly his lawyers know will have no role in court room litigation, can’t possibly be the basis for judicial opinion….that’ s not evidence, that’s at least double hearsay, it may be worse than that.”