JACKSON — Senators from both parties lined up to shake hands with Democrat Bob Dearing on Monday evening after they voted to confirm his narrow victory in an election that his Republican opponent sought to overturn.
The vote in the Republican-majority chamber was 47-3 to confirm Dearing and reject a petition by former Sen. Melanie Sojourner, who had said the election was so spoiled by misconduct that she should be declared the winner.
“I look forward to working with you,” second-term Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln, told Dearing.
“Congratulations, Bob Dearing,” said seventh-term Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland. “Welcome. Or, welcome back.”
Dearing said he expects to be sworn in Wednesday, and he returns as one of the most senior members of the Senate. He had served 32 years before Sojourner unseated him in 2011.
In the November 2015 election, Dearing defeated Sojourner by 64 votes. Both are from Natchez, and they ran in District 37 in Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties.
“I’m just glad it’s finally over,” Dearing said Monday. “I think it’s going to be a great four years.”
In a Capitol hallway later, Sojourner said she wasn’t surprised that only three senators voted against declaring Dearing the winner.
“Any senator who voted ‘no’ today will be punished the next four years by the lieutenant governor,” said Sojourner, who was often at odds with Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves last term.
Those voting “no” were three Republicans who have been her closest allies: Angela Hill of Picayune, Chris McDaniel of Ellisville and Michael Watson of Pascagoula.
First-term Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, voted “present,” which didn’t count for or against either candidate.
In 2014, Sojourner managed McDaniel’s unsuccessful campaign to unseat longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran. It was a bitter primary that split voters between tea party factions that supported McDaniel and establishment Republicans who sought Democrats’ support for Cochran in a runoff.
In challenging her loss to Dearing, Sojourner argued that election materials were not kept secure in Adams County. She also said poll workers at Franklin County’s Bude precinct improperly assisted voters.
The chairman of the Adams County election commission said election results were stored securely on multiple computers, and five Bude poll workers testified that they followed election laws and procedures.
A five-member Senate committee heard 15 hours of testimony and consulted attorneys about court decisions in other election contests.
“We let witnesses ramble on and on at times. We did not want to be accused of shutting down testimony,” said the committee chairman, Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton, R-Newton.
A Mississippi House committee is expected to meet Tuesday to continue discussing a challenge over an election that tied in District 79 in Smith and Jasper counties. Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton of Taylorsville won a tiebreaker by a drawing of straws, but Republican challenger Mark Tullos of Raleigh says the election never should have been tied because he believes some votes were improperly counted.
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