A fair piece by Sam Hall of The Clarion Ledger
Sam Hall, Clarion Ledger, August 15, 2014
We have arrived at the beginning of the end of Mississippi’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
Chris McDaniel, the state senator who lost to incumbent Thad Cochran, filed his legal challenge in Jones County late Thursday afternoon. Here’s what you need to know about the challenge and what’s next.
What does McDaniel ultimately want?
This is the easy part to explain.
McDaniel wants the court to declare him the nominee.
It’s the “how” that’s interesting.
McDaniel says the court should rule “that the Hinds County results from the June 24 primary runoff be invalidated and removed from the statewide count…”
He recommends the same for “other counties proved to have permitted widespread vote fraud and violations of Mississippi election laws.”
Of note, Cochran won Hinds by just shy of 11,000 votes. Throwing those out would give McDaniel the win. It would also disenfranchise thousands of voters McDaniel argues are “legal” in addition to those “illegal” voters.
What does McDaniel want first?
The first thing McDaniel wants is for the court to issue an injunction to Cochran moving forward as the Republican nominee until the judge has ruled on the challenge.
He points to a state statute that says a legal challenge “shall automatically supersede and suspend the operation and effect of the order, ruling or judgment of the executive committee appealed from.” Simply put, McDaniel is arguing that state law says his challenge has to be decided before Cochran can officially be named the nominee.
If the judge grants the injunction, it won’t effectively do anything in the short term. Cochran will continue to campaign — as it is, seeing as how it’s unlikely he’ll be making many personal appearances until right before the November election. If the challenge is not decided before the deadline to print general election ballots, then it could cause an issue.
Argument: Republicans were ‘disenfranchised’
Ironically, McDaniel is seeking to disenfranchise an entire county of voters because, he says, Republicans were disenfranchised themselves.
McDaniel alleges the Cochran campaign disenfranchised Republican party voters with their “intentional solicitation of Democrat voters to violate State law” and that “the permitted unlawful votes produced an outcome that does not express the will of qualified Republican party electors.”
The biggest hurdle McDaniel has here is that Mississippi operates on an open primary system. Since we do not register by party, voters are allowed to participate in whichever primary they so choose. Just because someone has historically voted in one primary does not mean they are cannot vote in another primary in the future.
Argument: State violated First Amendment rights
This is a bold claim, but I see it as key to McDaniel’s long-term game plan. I’ll explain why at the bottom of this section.
You have to follow the bouncing ball to get where McDaniel is going with it. Pay attention, and I’ll try to explain it succinctly.
In Mississippi, primaries are run by the political parties, not by the county or state. However, McDaniel is arguing that “when administering primary elections, the (State Republican Executive Committee) and the Party’s county executive committees act as State election officials.”
Therefore, McDaniel argues, it was the state that allowed widespread election violations and prevented Republican voters from choosing their nominee by allowing Democrats to participate. (Again, this assumes voters can be defined by party in Mississippi.)
So, we have the Republican Party running the election but deemed an official of the state. Therefore, we have the state preventing Republican voters from choosing their nominee by allowing Democrats to participate in the Republican primary.
McDaniel is arguing that this constitutes “a substantial violate of the associational freedom of McDaniel and other members of the Republican Party of Mississippi protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
In other words, the State of Mississippi prevented Republicans from exercising their freedom of expression through choosing their nominee because the state illegally allowed Democrats to vote in their primary.
This argument has barely been mentioned by the campaign prior to this point, but the argument is the thrust of their legal challenge.
So, why is it important?
In my opinion, this provides McDaniel with an avenue for a federal case if he loses in a state court. His argument is that his First Amendment rights were violated, and that is a federal matter. If he can’t get relief on the state level, he could move to the federal courts with a constitutional argument.
What constitutes ‘vote fraud, negligence and irregularities’?
The challenge takes specific exception with the following:
- Not keeping accurate inventory of ballots
- Not keeping precinct election records secure and separate
- Not keeping ballot boxes secure
- Commingling unlawful votes with otherwise lawful votes
That last item is a bit vague and strange. One could assume he means Democrat votes when he says “unlawful.”
Not specifically mentioned in the filing but still presented as evidence are the allegations of vote-buying, the regression analysis used to identify Democrat voters and race-baiting radio ads that were all included in the challenge to the state Republican Party.