LAUREL — Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran’s attorneys say a lawsuit that seeks to overturn his Republican primary victory should be dismissed because it was filed too late.
They also argue Cochran should not have been sued because he didn’t conduct the election.
Cochran defeated state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the June 24 runoff, and the state GOP certified the results July 7.
In court papers, Cochran’s attorneys cited a 1959 Mississippi Supreme Court decision that a challenge to a statewide election must be filed within 20 days of when results are certified. They said that means McDaniel had a July 27 deadline. McDaniel filed suit Aug. 14 in his home of Jones County, asking a judge to either declare him the winner of the June 24 runoff or order a new election.
Retired Chancellor Hollis McGehee, who was appointed by the state Supreme Court to oversee the case, has set a Sept. 16 trial date but will hear arguments Aug. 28 on pretrial motions, including Cochran’s request to dismiss the case.
McDaniel has a substantial burden in court: He must prove there were enough illegal votes to change the outcome or that the runoff was so shoddily conducted that it should be done over.
Cochran attorney Phil Abernethy said in court papers that McDaniel’s case “is based primarily upon allegations of isolated and episodic election irregularities, errors and violations that are legally insufficient to support an election challenge under the Mississippi Election Code or federal law.”
Certified results show Cochran defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes in the June 24 runoff, which took place three weeks after McDaniel led a three-person primary by 1,418 votes. Turnout jumped by 63,295 votes to 382,197 in the runoff, and Cochran was boosted by increases in majority-black precincts where Democrats typically perform well. Mississippi voters do not register by party.
During a brief hearing last Wednesday in Laurel, McGehee said he would not order the state’s chief elections officer, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, to halt preparations for the Nov. 4 general election because McDaniel did not sue Hosemann. The three-member state elections commission, which includes Hosemann, is scheduled to meet Tuesday to set the names for the general election ballot.
State law says the ballot must be given to counties by Sept. 10, which is 55 days before the general election. Absentee ballots must be ready weeks in advance to send to overseas military voters.
Mississippi law says a new primary could be ordered even after someone wins the general election. If that were to happen, a new general election also would have to be held.
The Nov. 4 ballot for Senate also includes Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara.
McGehee had set the trial on McDaniel’s lawsuit to begin Sept. 15 and end by Oct. 3. On Friday, he adjusted the dates to Sept. 16 and Oct. 6.