ELLISVILLE — A retired chancery judge who is now a Methodist minister will oversee a lawsuit that challenges Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran’s victory in a Republican primary runoff.
The chief justice of the state Supreme Court appointed retired Chancellor Hollis McGehee of Lucedale to handle the case that state Sen. Chris McDaniel filed Thursday.
McDaniel demands that a judge declare him the winner or order a new runoff between him and Cochran. Certified results of the June 24 runoff show that Cochran, a six-term incumbent and former Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, defeated the tea party-backed McDaniel by 7,667 votes.
It would be unprecedented for a court to order a do-over of a statewide election, and part of McDaniel’s argument hinges on an unenforceable law. His lawsuit said Mississippi GOP officials violated the rights of real Republicans by allowing people to vote who didn’t intend to support the party’s nominee.
Rick Hasan, a professor of law and political science at University of California-Irvine, said he is skeptical McDaniel’s challenge will succeed. Hasan said McDaniel’s lawsuit tries to support its factual claims by using Facebook posts and opinion polling that a judge might reject.
Hasan, who has a website called electionlawblog.org, said a candidate in any state would have to show convincing proof of fraud or illegal voting to persuade a judge to order a new election.
“In any state, that’s a very, very tall order and rarely happens,” Hasan said.
Mississippi voters are banned from participating in one party’s primary and another party’s runoff. McDaniel’s campaign, after weeks of examining ballots and other voting records, said it found about 3,500 people who illegally voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and June 24 runoff. McDaniel said workers found about 9,500 “irregular” votes and 2,275 “improperly” cast absentee ballots, though the campaign hasn’t said what made those votes irregular.
McDaniel has criticized Cochran for reaching out to black voters who traditionally support Democrats. Turnout increased from the primary to the runoff, and Cochran fared well in many majority-black precincts. McDaniel’s lawsuit seeks to invalidate all June 24 GOP runoff votes in Hinds County, which is the state’s largest county and is majority-black. Cochran received 18,211 votes in Hinds County to McDaniel’s 7,150.
Cochran has said he is focused on the Nov. 4 general election against Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara. Cochran campaign attorneys Phil Abernathy and Mark Garriga said Thursday: “We look forward to holding the McDaniel campaign to the burden of proof that the law requires.”
Mississippi judges are elected without party labels. McGehee was a chancery judge from 1995 to 2005 Franklin, Amite, Pike and Walthall counties in southwestern Mississippi. He is now a Methodist minister at two churches in Lucedale. It was not immediately clear when McGehee will set a schedule for a hearing or additional court filings in the election challenge.