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McDaniel's Bizarre Plan To Challenge The Senate Race In Mississippi

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AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis

Noel Fritsch, McDaniel's press secretary, told the conservative Daily Caller in a report published on Monday that McDaniel's campaign and his supporters had already found 1,500 invalid votes in Hinds County (which went for Cochran, who McDaniel challenged, in both the initial primary and the runoff). McDaniel supporters claimed that they can force a new runoff if they prove that a significant amount of the votes that separated Cochran and McDaniel were invalid.

"We don’t have to prove that we have 7,000 [invalid] votes ... all there needs to be is enough doubt about the election, and we’re confident about that," Fritsch said.

But according to Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman for Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann (R), "There is no recount provision in Mississippi law," she told TPM when asked if the McDaniel campaign could trigger a recount by finding 7,000 invalid votes (the approximate margin of victory for Cochran).

The core of the McDaniel campaign's argument is that McDaniel is the legitimate Republican nominee because Cochran, after the primary went to a runoff, courted African-American and Democratic voters. The problem is that in Mississippi, voters don't register by party and Mississippi has open primaries, so it's difficult to prove that Democrats voted for Cochran as a sort of protest vote against McDaniel.

It is illegal in Mississippi for voters to cast a ballot in two different primary elections. So, for example, a voter can't legally cast a vote in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate and then cast a ballot in the Republican runoff as well. McDaniel's campaign argues that Cochran got a significant amount of Democrats to illegally crossover and vote in the Republican primary after voting for the Democratic primary. But it's unclear in what way the 1,500 votes McDaniel supporters claimed they found are "invalid."

"Now it's our job to make sure that sanctity of the vote is upheld. Before this race ends we have to be absolutely certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters," McDaniel said the night of the runoff election on June 24.

What McDaniel may actually be doing is gathering evidence to submit a legal complaint on the election results. If all counties in Mississippi send in their final tallies of the election results on Tuesday, the state Republican executive committee will add up all of the ballots in the runoff election. Then the executive committee will pass the results to the secretary of State. Once that happens, the McDaniel campaign will have a window of 12 days to file a legal challenge.

"Finding enough ineligible voters on June 24 will certainly contribute to a successful contest," McDaniel volunteer Bill Billingsley, who has been involved in going through the voter rolls in Hinds County, told Mississippi's WAPT.

On Saturday the McDaniel campaign sent out an email to supporters titled "Help Me." The email asked for volunteers to help "this battle to ensure the integrity of our election process here in Mississippi" by contacting a law firm working for McDaniel's campaign.

"From everything I've seen, all of the information that I've seen, there's no indication that he's going to be able to in fact get something done legally," Jackson State University political science professor Rickey Hill said of McDaniel.

"But I just believe at this point that would be all rhetoric more than anything else," Hill added.

About The Author

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Daniel Strauss is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He was previously a breaking news reporter for The Hill newspaper and has written for Politico, Roll Call, The American Prospect, and Gaper's Block. He has also interned at Democracy: A Journal of Ideas and The New Yorker. Daniel grew up in Chicago and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in History. At Michigan he helped edit Consider, a weekly opinion magazine. He can be reached at daniel@talkingpointsmemo.com.