State law clear in election certification procedures

If one bases their perception of what happens next in the political circus that the Mississippi Republican Senate Primary election has become on what is being shoved out on social media, it would seem that the ultimate resolution of this conflict will come as a result of which group can shout the loudest.

However, social media caterwauling has virtually nothing to do with the process. As was the case in the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election, what will determine the outcome is existing state and federal law, existing state election certification procedures, and the courts.

In the 2014 Mississippi GOP Senate primary, incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran maintains a runoff election lead of 7,113 votes. In order for state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s camp to change that numerical lead, 7,114 of Cochran’s votes will have to be invalidated.

The plausible way to accomplish that under state law is to identify 7,114 voters who voted in the June 3 Democratic Primary election but then illegally crossed over and voted in the June 24 Republican Second Primary election. Without that specific voter behavior being proven, the argument that “Democrats shouldn’t vote in a Republican primary and vice versa” has already been adjudicated in the federal courts.

The courts ruled that Mississippi law clearly and unequivocally allows limited crossover voting so long as a voter doesn’t cross party lines by voting in one party’s first primary and another party’s second primary – or that the voter makes a public declaration of their intent not to support the nominee of the party in whose primary they are voting.

Counties submit their primary results to the state party. Beyond state law on the conduct of party primary elections, there’s the certification process. Under state law, the political parties certify the results of their primaries. The majority of the 52-member Mississippi Republican Party State Executive Committee has to vote to accept the numbers submitted by the 82 individual counties.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office accepts those party-certified numbers on behalf of the state, but has no legal ability to change those numbers.

Once election results are certified by the state GOP Executive Committee and accepted under law by the Secretary of State’s Office, the only venue in which the primary election results can then be challenged is the courts.

So the relevant questions regarding where the process goes from here are: 1) What is the ruling of the majority of the Mississippi Republican Party State Executive Committee on certifying the primary elections results?; and 2) Does the challenger have a compelling legal argument to invalidate 7,114 votes and to also clearly identify those invalidated votes as Cochran votes?
History is usually a good teacher in such matters. Remember, the margin in this race is 7,113.

In the 2000 Florida recount – with the U.S. presidency on the line, battalions of lawyers and experts engaged, and multiple millions of dollars expended in the 36-day fight – the margin between George W. Bush and Al Gore was less than 500 votes and closer depending on the standard (dimpled chads, no dimples) used in counting.

The Mississippi standoff isn’t even based on legal standards as distinct as dimpled chads in the establishment of voter intent. The Mississippi standoff is likewise not based on a margin of less than 500 votes dividing the candidates. And Mississippi has no mandatory recount law on the books.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in the Florida 2000 case that it was time to stop the challenges and certify the election. Almost 15 years later, there are many voters who vigorously disagree with that ruling and haven’t accepted the results of the election.

But in the 2014 Mississippi GOP Senate primary, the election’s margin, state law, state election certification procedures and relevant federal court precedents strongly suggest a similar result in Mississippi current standoff between the Mississippi GOP and Sen. McDaniel and his supporters.

SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or Salter is chief spokesman for Mississippi State University.

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