By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Not surprisingly, the campaigns of incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel differ substantially on the number of questionable ballots cast in the June 24 Republican primary runoff.
Cochran, who won the election by 7,667 votes, or about 2 percentage points, maintains that an extensive examination of the election data from 79 of the 82 ballots has found about 910 votes “that could be questioned out of over 382,000 votes cast statewide.”
The McDaniel campaign, which initiated the review of the election data as part of a potential legal challenge of the results, said late last week it had found about 8,300 questionable ballots.
McDaniel is still scheduled to hold a news conference today in Jackson to discuss the issue.
On Tuesday, Pete Perry, chairman of the Hinds County Republican Party, held a news conference in the Hinds County Courthouse where he said between 300 and 350 potentially questionable ballots had been found in Hinds by the two campaigns during the examination of election data. Those Hinds County numbers were included in the 910 potentially questionable ballots that the Cochran campaign has conceded statewide.
Perry said the 300-350 questionable ballots are a far cry from the 1,500 the McDaniel campaign had alleged earlier in Hinds County.
“I think they are trying to run a PR campaign, trying to raise money to pay off a campaign debt,” he said.
Hinds County and Perry are to a large extent at the center of the election controversy. Perry was hired by a Cochran political action committee formed in part by former Gov. Haley Barbour to work on get-out-the-vote efforts. The McDaniel campaign has been particularly critical of the fact that the Cochran campaign was successful in luring people who normally vote Democratic, specifically blacks, to vote for Cochran.
Perry told the Daily Journal soon after the election that about 3,500 African-Americans in Hinds County, the state’s most populous county and a Democratic stronghold, voted for Cochran.
An analysis by the New York Times’ the Upshot blog concluded that statewide Cochran won 7,682 votes in 286 precincts where President Barack Obama won 92 percent of the vote in 2012. The turnout in the heavily Democratic precincts was not high – about 7 percent of the 2012 general election turnout – but enough to make a difference in a tight election, the Upshot concluded.
Statewide as many as 32,000 Democrats might have voted for Cochran, the Blog surmised, but conceded those numbers were more difficult to ascertain.
While those numbers might be galling to McDaniel, party primary elections in Mississippi are open to all registered voters. But McDaniel has alleged that many of those people voted in the Democratic primary on June 3, meaning under state law they would be ineligible to vote in the Republican runoff.
But Perry and Jordan Russell, the Cochran campaign spokesman, said Tuesday the examination of election data statewide has revealed the number of ineligible crossover voters was minimal.
But the McDaniel campaign sees things differently. Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for McDaniel, said, “We hope that the fact Pete Perry was paid $60,000 by Thad Cochran’s super PAC to move Democrat votes in Hinds County had nothing to do with the fraud he is alleged to have engaged in, but we’re glad Pete has taken a sudden interest in the integrity of the election, and hope he helps Mississippians find the truth about whether he ordered precincts to allow ineligible Democrats to vote illegally on June 24th.”
Perry denied Tuesday that he made any attempts to make it easier for people who voted in the Democratic primary on June 3 to ineligibly vote in the Republican runoff.
“Absolutely not,” he said.
The election results dispute is playing out not only in the media, but also the courts. The McDaniel campaign and others have filed lawsuits claiming that the campaign is entitled to see all the election data, which would include such information as the birthday of voters.
On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice James W. Kitchens ordered the McDaniel campaign, Attorney General Jim Hood and county circuit clerks involved in the issue to provide more information on their interpretation of the law as to what information a candidate is entitled to see when examining election results.