JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A tea party-backed candidate asked a Mississippi court on Thursday to declare him the winner of the June 24 Republican runoff against incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran or order a new election.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel sued Thursday in state court in his own home of Jones County. The Mississippi Supreme Court will appoint a special judge to handle the case. McDaniel faces high hurdles to convince a judge to take either action: it would be unprecedented for a court to order a do-over of a statewide election, and part of his argument in the lawsuit hinges on an unenforceable law.
Certified results of the June 24 runoff show Cochran defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes. But McDaniel's lawsuit renews his claims that Mississippi GOP officials violated the rights of real Republicans by allowing people to vote who didn't intend to support the Republican nominee in November.
"In combination with Sen. Cochran's intentional solicitation of Democrat voters to violate state law, the permitted unlawful votes produced an outcome that does not express the will of qualified Republican party electors," the lawsuit states.
Primary voters are indeed bound by law to support the party's nominee in the general election, though courts have said that law can't be enforced.
Cochran's campaign has said it's focused on Cochran's bid for re-election in November against Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara.
"As we said last week, we look forward to holding the McDaniel campaign to the burden of proof that the law requires and defending the votes of the majority of Mississippians who elected Senator Cochran as the Republican nominee," Cochran lawyers Phil Abernathy and Mark Garriga said in a statement released by the campaign.
McDaniel first asks that the court throw out the June 24 results from Jackson's Hinds County and "other counties proved to have permitted widespread vote fraud," declaring him the winner by subtracting counties that Cochran won. McDaniel has criticized Cochran for reaching out to black voters who traditionally support Democrats. Turnout increased from the primary to the runoff, and Cochran fared well in many majority-black precincts.
If the court instead orders a new election, McDaniel asked that the state GOP be required to enforce the law about supporting the party's nominee. However, the lawsuit did not say how it could be enforced in a state where voters don't register by party. It says only that false Republicans violate the First Amendment "associational freedom" of true party members.
Mississippi voters are banned from voting in one party's primary and another party's runoff. McDaniel's campaign, after weeks of examining ballots and other voting records, claimed it found about 3,500 people who illegally voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and June 24 runoff. McDaniel said workers found about 9,500 "irregular" votes and 2,275 "improperly" cast absentee ballots, though the campaign hasn't said what made those votes irregular.
McDaniel began his challenge with a complaint to the Mississippi Republican Party executive committee on Aug. 4, asking the group to declare him the winner over Cochran.
State GOP chairman Joe Nosef said Aug. 6 that the committee would not consider the challenge because it did not have time to thoroughly examine the information McDaniel provided about alleged voting irregularities.
State law says the general-election sample ballot must be given to local election officials by Sept. 10, 55 days before the Nov. 4 general election. While a court could order a new primary even after the general election, McDaniel campaign attorney Mitch Tyner has said he wants the dispute resolved in time to keep the general election on track.
In his suit, McDaniel seeks an immediate injunction suspending Cochran's certification as nominee, holding his name off the ballot until McDaniel's complaint is heard. A trial is sought "as soon as practicable."
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