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Mississippi Senate Race, Held Weeks Ago, Subject To Fresh Challenge

McDaniel supporters protested a speech by Sen. Thad Cochran at the Neshoba County Fair last week
Rogelio V. Solis
McDaniel supporters protested a speech by Sen. Thad Cochran at the Neshoba County Fair last week

Chris McDaniel, who lost his bid to unseat Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran in the GOP primary, is taking his case to the state party.

McDaniel announced at a news conference Monday that he has found enough evidence of improper or questionable votes that the party should void the results of the June 24 runoff.

"They asked us to put up or shut up, and here we are with the evidence," said McDaniel, a state senator who was supported by Tea Party-aligned groups.

Turnout increased between the June 3 primary, in which McDaniel outpolled Cochran, and the runoff, when Cochran prevailed with 51 percent of the vote.

McDaniel has been arguing for weeks that Cochran's victory was due to votes from Democrats. Turnout shot up for the runoff in heavily African-American precincts in areas such as Hinds County.

McDaniel's attorney Mitch Tyner said his campaign had found 3,500 instances of crossover votes, in which voters who had participated in the Democratic primary voted in the GOP runoff. Such crossover voting is a misdemeanor under Mississippi law.

Tyner also claimed to have found 9,500 "irregular votes" and 2,275 absentee ballots that were "improperly cast."

"Given the number of additional votes Cochran received in the runoff — more than a similar increase seen by McDaniel — the campaign clearly plans to argue that many of those votes were from Democrats and should be considered invalid," The Washington Post reports.

Noting that McDaniel is not asking for a new election to be held, but rather wants to be declared the nominee, elections expert Rick Hasen of the University of California, Irvine, says that McDaniel is bound to be disappointed.

"This will almost surely fail before both the Mississippi Republican Party and in court," Hasen writes on his . "Despite all the talk of massive fraud by the McDaniel campaign for weeks, there is virtually noting substantiating fraud alleged in the complaint."

The Cochran campaign intends to keep its focus on the fall.

"Like other Mississippians, we have watched with interest as the McDaniel campaign has made repeated and baseless allegations of fraud and misconduct against not only members of the Cochran campaign staff, but also circuit clerks and volunteer poll workers around the state," Mike Garriga, an attorney for the Cochran campaign, said in a statement. "The filing of this challenge marks the point where this matter moves from an arena of press conferences and rhetoric into a setting where nothing matters but admissible evidence and rule of law."

Actually, it's not clear what will happen next. McDaniel wants the state Republican Party to hold a public hearing within eight days, but ahead of his press conference Mississippi GOP Chairman Joe Nosef said it's not clear how the party will respond, other than talking with lawyers.

"The statute provides very limited guidance on how the party has to handle it," Nosef said.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alan Greenblatt has been covering politics and government in Washington and around the country for 20 years. He came to NPR as a digital reporter in 2010, writing about a wide range of topics, including elections, housing economics, natural disasters and same-sex marriage.