Circuit clerks question how to get records to McDaniel’s trial
Published: August 28,2014
Tags: ballot, Baretta Mosely, bench, challenge, Chris McDaniel, circuit clerk, court, Democratic Party, election law, Gayle Parker, general election, GOP, Hollis McGehee, justice, law, lawsuit, Lee Westbrook, legal, Mitch Tyner, Politics, primary, Reform Party, Republican party, runoff, Senate, Shawn O'Hara, Tea Party, Thad Cochran, Travis Childers, vote, voter, Voting
LAUREL — Attorneys for Chris McDaniel have issued subpoenas demanding election records from more than half of Mississippi’s counties for a lawsuit that seeks to overturn his Republican primary loss to Sen. Thad Cochran.
Some circuit clerks said yesterday that gathering records will require a great deal of work and expense. A McDaniel subpoena demands that records be delivered by tomorrow to Jones County, where McDaniel filed his election challenge. It’s possible a judge will say that deadline is too tight.
Madison County Circuit Clerk Lee Westbrook said she would have to rent a van or hire movers to deliver the material McDaniel is seeking, including poll books and absentee ballots. She said the material won’t fit into her sport utility vehicle.
“I have the materials gathered in one spot waiting for a moving van at the judge’s direction,” Westbrook said in a phone interview. “I don’t know who’s going to pay for a moving van to take it all down south.”
McDaniel attorney Mitch Tyner said he sent subpoenas Monday to 46 or 47 of the 82 counties — places where he believes widespread irregularities occurred in the June 24 runoff.
Certified runoff results show Cochran, a six-term incumbent, defeated McDaniel, a tea party-backed state senator, by 7,667 votes.
Judge Hollis McGehee is scheduled to hear arguments about pretrial motions today in Jones County, including a request by Cochran’s attorneys to dismiss the case because they say McDaniel waited too long to challenge the election. Tyner says the challenge was filed on time.
McDaniel will try to prove the election was so shoddily run that the judge should either declare him the winner over Cochran or order a new election. There is no known precedent in Mississippi for a judge overturning or ordering a new statewide election.
Tyner said the subpoenas demand the kind of material that McDaniel campaign representatives wanted to see in July when they were seeking examples of improper election practices, such as people voting in the June 3 Democratic primary and the June 24 Republican runoff. Such crossover voting is prohibited. McDaniel representatives were not allowed to make copies of some documents they wanted, he said.
“It really hamstrings the candidate when you do that,” Tyner said.
Tyner said under normal court procedures, a person would have 10 days to respond to a subpoena. He said he is asking McGehee to agree to the shortened time frame of requiring circuit clerks to provide the demanded election materials by Friday. Tyner said his office faxed the subpoenas Monday night and followed up by sending the documents through certified mail.
Lafayette County Circuit Clerk Baretta Mosely said she received a subpoena through certified mail yesterday and gave it to the county board of supervisors’ attorney. “Whatever he instructs me to do, I will do,” Mosely said.
She said the material McDaniel seeks is already in a secure spot in the Lafayette County Courthouse basement because state law requires officials to maintain election records for at least 22 months.
Harrison County Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker also gave her subpoena to the local supervisors’ attorney. She said fulfilling the demands will require her staff to open and repack some election material.
“Who’s going to pay for all this?” Parker said. “There’s a lot of cost involved.”
McGehee has set a Sept. 16 starting date for the trial, and has said it must conclude by Oct. 6.
The judge said he would not block officials from preparing for the Nov. 4 general election. State election commissioners Tuesday approved a ballot that lists Cochran, Democrat Travis Childers and the Reform Party’s Shawn O’Hara as Senate candidates.
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