Today, the Mississippi State Supreme Court heard arguments from the legal teams of state Sen. Chris McDaniel and U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran regarding the 20-day deadline to file election challenges. A lower court previously ruled that McDaniel missed the deadline to file a challenge by 21 days, thus nullifying his attempts to prove that he is the rightful winner of the June Republican primary and therefore deserves to compete in the general election as the Republican nominee. Arguments from both campaigns raised serious questions about the current state of Mississippi’s election law and who gets to decide the state’s election process. Mitch Tyner, an attorney who is cited in McDaniel’s challenge as having cast an irregular vote and who argued on behalf of McDaniel, asked the judges to look solely at the statute in question. It is under this statute that a candidate is allowed to challenge the results of a statewide election. The statute itself, Tyner argues, is enforceable on its face without needing to draw upon rules from other statutes. No time frame or deadline is outlined in its language.
Butler Snow attorney Phil Abernethy argued for Cochran, who won the election in June by nearly 8,000 votes. Abernethy argued that the deadline was established in a 1908 law.
The 20-day rule still exists, Abernethy argues, within the statute that establishes the rules by which a candidate can challenge an election on the county level. The state high court determined in the 1959 case of Kellum v. Johnson that the Legislature meant for countywide and state elections to have the same deadline despite the fact that the guidelines are in two separate statutes. “To look at this statute as a vacuum and say there is no deadline … it’s impractical,” Abernethy said.
Furthermore, Abernethy argued that if the Mississippi State Supreme Court “got it wrong” in the Kellum case and the Legislature actually wanted no deadline for challenges in state elections, they have had over 50 years to rewrite or add clarification to the law.