Mississippi’s Republican Party said late Wednesday it would not hear state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s challenge to the results of his Republican primary runoff loss to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in June.
The Mississippi GOP’s rejection came two days after McDaniel made his first public appearance in weeks, holding a press conference to formally launch his legal challenge and demand the state Republican Party recognise him as the true victor in June’s runoff.
In a letter to McDaniel’s attorney Wednesday evening, Mississippi GOP chairman Joe Nosef said it wouldn’t be possible for the party’s committee of 52 volunteers to examine the challenge in a timely and prudent manner. Mississippi law requires a formal legal challenge to an election be filed within 10 days of the challenger filing a petition with the state executive committee. Since Mississippi GOP laws also require a seven-day notice before any meeting of the executive committee, that would give the volunteers just one full day to examine McDaniel’s challenge.
Nosef advised Mcdaniel to take his challenge to court to allow for a better, more thorough review.
“Obviously, it is not possible for our committee of 52 volunteers to attempt to engage in such an exercise in a prudent manner in one day,” Nosef wrote.
“In fact, given the extraordinary relief requested of overturning a United States Senate primary in which over 360,000 Mississippians cast votes, the only way to ensure the integrity of the election process and provide a prudent review of this matter is in a court of law. The public judicial process will protect the rights of the voters as well as both candidates, and a proper decision will be made on behalf of our party and our state.”
In an emailed statement to Business Insider, McDaniel lawyer Mitch Tyner said McDaniel was “disappointed” but that he would press on with his challenge in court.
“Chris McDaniel is very disappointed he will not have the opportunity to present his election challenge before the State Executive Committee, especially in light of the fact that we delivered a physical copy of the challenge to all fifty-two members of the committee,” Tyner said.
Tyner also disagreed with Nosef’s contention the court system was the more appropriate setting for the challenge.
“The party was the perfect venue in which to hear the challenge since it was responsible for the election, but we will move forward with a judicial review as provided for under Mississippi code.”
After losing a plurality of votes in the initial Republican primary, Cochran boosted turnout in the runoff by courting votes of Democrats and African-Americans. McDaniel’s challenge came after six weeks of poring over ballots and voting records at Mississippi polling places.
Tyner said Monday that the McDaniel campaign had found more than 15,000 “questionable” votes, including 3,500 illegal “crossover” votes during that process. McDaniel’s campaign said he should have won by more than 25,000 votes — with the combination of “questionable” votes, “crossover” votes, and an “intent” statute in Mississippi law the campaign argues makes it impermissible for voters to vote for one candidate in a primary if they do not intend on supporting him or her in the general election.
“We anticipate that after they review the challenge that they will see that Chris McDaniel clearly, clearly won the Republican vote on the runoff,” Tyner said. “I say that very assuredly, because that’s what the mathematics show.”
“We’re not asking for a new election,” he added. “We’re asking the Republican Party simply recognise who actually won the election.”
However, the Cochran campaign, while releasing detailed, specific county-by-county breakdowns, says there aren’t even close to as many questionable votes as the McDaniel campaign would need to mount a legitimate challenge. Campaign attorney Mark Garriga said Monday that Cochran’s legal team was ready to defend itself in a “setting where nothing matters but admissible evidence and the rule of law.”
Mississippi election law, which mandates runoffs between the top two candidates if no candidate in a primary earns over 50% of the vote, bars people from voting in one party’s primary and then crossing over to vote in another party’s runoff. Though there are few procedures to enforce this, the law says only people who voted in the Republican primary or didn’t vote at all were eligible to vote in the June 24 runoff.
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