By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – A spokesman says supporters of state Sen. Chris McDaniel already have found more than 3,300 instances of “irregular votes” from the June 24 runoff election that McDaniel lost to incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.
The Cochran campaign, meanwhile, says the figure is “wildly inflated.”
The McDaniel campaign continues to examine county results in an effort to ascertain whether a challenge should be filed to the outcome where in unofficial returns six-term incumbent Cochran defeated McDaniel by about 6,700 votes out of the 376,323 that were cast in the runoff, but McDaniel has not conceded the election.
Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for McDaniel, said much of the focus is on “ineligible crossover votes,” or people who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and then voted in the June 24 Republican runoff.
That is not allowed under state law.
On election night, McDaniel complained of “liberal Democrats” deciding the Republican primary after it was revealed that Cochran, who trailed the June 3 first primary to McDaniel, courted African-Americans and others who traditionally vote Democratic for the Republican runoff.
State law allows anyone to vote in a party runoff as long as they did not vote in the other party’s first primary. Fritsch said that occurred.
“The campaign is focusing primarily on ineligible votes cast in the June 24 Republican primary runoff by voters who participated in the June 3 Democratic primary,” he said. “Our volunteers on the ground have found over 3,300 irregular votes after examining fewer than half of Mississippi’s counties. That total does not include the Delta counties or even absentee ballots, which are sure to include many more irregularities.”
The Delta is significant because it is generally a Democratic stronghold, and Cochran saw increased support in the region in the runoff.
Others question how many “ineligible crossover votes” have actually been found.
“The number the McDaniel campaign is using is wildly inflated,” said Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell. “The vast majority of what they are claiming to be ‘irregularities’ are simple clerical errors.”
For instance, Russell said the McDaniel campaign is claiming 200 “ineligible” crossover votes in the Fondren precinct in Jackson. Yet, he said only 37 people voted in the Democratic primary in the precinct on June 3, meaning this 37 would be the only registered voters in the precinct ineligible to vote in the June 24 Republican runoff.
Joe Nosef, chairman of the state Republican Party, said Tuesday he is certain that the results will be thoroughly examined and if enough “irregular votes” are found to make a difference, the McDaniel campaign will file a challenge. The challenge can be filed after Monday, which is when the state party will submit to the Secretary of State’s office the final, certified results from the 82 counties.
The state Republican Party Executive Committee met Tuesday afternoon as “a perfunctory” measure to accept results from the counties. But those numbers can change, Nosef said, because challenged ballots can still be added to the total. For instance, people who voted without a photo identification – about 250 people – had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to return to the county circuit clerk’s office with identification.
An example of the ongoing contentiousness in the election was evident Tuesday at “the perfunctory meeting” of the executive committee in downtown Jackson at the Republican Party headquarters. Nosef requested that Hinds County deputies provide security to ensure there were no confrontations.
Nosef said he asked for the security because of statements and demonstrations that had occurred in the past.
“The good news is we didn’t need them,” he said.
The election contest, even after it was completed, continues to evoke strong emotions and accusations. For instance, a conservative blog reported a Meridian preacher said he was paid by the Cochran campaign to provide black voters $15 to vote for Cochran in the runoff.
Russell said the Cochran campaign “categorically rejects any allegations of wrongdoing” and was considering legal action against the blogger and minister.
The state House of Representatives’ president pro tem, Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said his examinations of the results in Lauderdale County did not show a big increase in black precincts from the first primary to the runoff.
Meanwhile, True the Vote, a conservative group that focuses on allegations of voter fraud, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Oxford demanding that the election poll books be made public.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said under state law the pollbooks are public record.