Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

McDaniel’s Mississippi Senate Challenge

In Election Analysis, Senate on July 9, 2014 at 11:48 am

Media coverage is increasing in what may be an impending legal challenge to the Mississippi US Senate Republican run-off election result from defeated candidate Chris McDaniel. Yesterday, for example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the vice-chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that legal authorities should investigate irregularities surrounding the voting in the June 24 electoral contest, and McDaniel’s own attorney indicated an official challenge is imminent.

Now certified as a 7,667-vote loser to Sen. Thad Cochran, McDaniel has a daunting task before him if he is to achieve his eventual goal of reversing the result.

At the heart of the issue is that many of the new voters who cast ballots in the run-off election did not participate in the Republican primary. Under Mississippi election law, there is no requirement to vote in a primary election prior to being part of the associated run-off. It is illegal, however, for a voter to cast a ballot in a primary of one party and then participate in the run-off of the opposite party. According to the McDaniel campaign, thousands of Democrats voted in their own primary and then appeared at Republican run-off polling places.

In order to invalidate the election, McDaniel would have to first prove that at least 7,667 people voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and then subsequently participated in the GOP run-off, or are illegal in some other way. McDaniel and his allies claim they have documentation of “several thousand” such votes, but it is not apparent that they have enough evidence for any authority to invalidate the election.

But, even this is only the first step. In order to cast aside the final result, McDaniel would have to secondarily prove that all of the illegally cast ballots were Cochran votes. And, even if he could find a way to accomplish this feat, the electoral clock is ticking against him.

The McDaniel remedy would be to ask for a new run-off, but there is not enough time to hold such a vote even if he could satisfy the very difficult, if not impossible, first two points. Remembering that federal elections now require all absentee ballots to be mailed 45 days before the election, we are fast running out of time to hold both a run-off and the general election under the federal requirements. Additionally, more time would be required for election authorities to print the ballots and physically mail them. Adding these days to the calendar already means, effectively, that time has expired.

But, there’s still more. McDaniel would first make his case about voting irregularities to officials of the Mississippi Republican Party. It is clear that no matter how the party leaders ruled, the losing candidate would take the matter to state court. A judge would eventually render a decision, and then the inevitable appeals process would begin. All of these machinations would take well more than the allotted time available between now and the Nov. 4 election.

Furthermore, since the US Senate contest is a federal election, the general election will take place on Nov. 4 whether the Republican Party has a candidate or not. Should the process deteriorate to the point where a clear GOP winner is not determined, the election would proceed sans a Republican nominee. Former Rep. Travis Childers (D-MS-1) is the certified Democratic candidate and Shawn O’Hara qualifies on the Reform line, meaning votes will be recorded and tabulated.

Now that Sen. Cochran is the official party nominee, it will take an extraordinary effort to remove him from the ballot. Due to the timing matters outlined above, the chances are virtually nonexistent that any legal authority would or could replace a deposed Cochran with McDaniel.

Though the McDaniel forces are keeping the concept of a challenge alive, it will realistically not progress. Therefore, we can count upon seeing a Cochran-Childers general election this fall.

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