McDaniel to file formal challenge to loss to Cochran in primary

Chris McDaniel

Chris McDaniel

ELLISVILLE — A campaign spokesman said tea party-backed Chris McDaniel will file a lawsuit today to challenge his Republican primary loss to six-term Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran.

Spokesman Noel Fritsch said yesterday the circuit court lawsuit will be filed in McDaniel’s home of Jones County. Today is the deadline for such a challenge to be filed.

The Mississippi Supreme Court will appoint a special judge to handle the case.

Certified results of the June 24 runoff show Cochran defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes.

McDaniel on Aug. 4 asked the state Republican executive committee to declare him the winner because he said his campaign found about 3,500 “crossover” votes from people who cast ballots in the June 3 Democratic primary and June 24 Republican runoff. State law bans people from voting in both parties’ primaries on the same day, and a longstanding legal opinion by the state attorney general says the law, by extension, prohibits people from voting in one party’s primary and another party’s runoff.

McDaniel also said his campaign found about 9,500 “irregular” votes and 2,275 “improperly cast” absentee ballots.

The party declined to consider McDaniel’s challenge because chairman Joe Nosef said committee members didn’t have time to thoroughly examine the information he provided.

McDaniel sent a letter yesterday asking people to help him pay for the court case.

“The fight won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap,” he wrote. “So I’m asking you to chip in $50 or more to help us.”

McDaniel could ask a judge to declare him the winner, or he could seek a new runoff statewide or in selected counties. He has a tough case, though, because Mississippi has no history of a court-ordered do-over of a statewide election.

State law says the general-election sample ballot must be given to local election officials by Sept. 10, which is 55 days before the Nov. 4 general election. That squeezes the timeline for a lawsuit and a new primary runoff. Although state law says a court could order a new primary even after the general election, McDaniel campaign attorney Mitch Tyner has said he wants the dispute over the primary resolved in time to keep the general election on track.

The Cochran camp says it’s already focused on November, with a ballot that also has Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Reform Party candidate Shawn O’Hara, who has run unsuccessfully for a long list of statewide offices since 1991.

In an Aug. 6 affidavit, a McDaniel campaign representative included Tyner and his wife, Sloan, on a list of potential “crossover/irregular voting” in Madison County. The affidavit said the Tyners, like many others, were marked in a single poll book as having voted on June 3 and June 24.

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