Representatives of Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel were in New Albany Monday to examine voting records from the June 24 Republican run-off to determine a party nominee for the U. S. Senate race. They reportedly found little of note.
The visit was part of a plan to check records in all 82 counties and contest the results of the run-off in which six-term incumbent Thad Cochran narrowly defeated McDaniel, a second-term state senator from Ellisville.
McDaniel had slightly bested Cochran in the June 3 primary but not garnered enough votes to avoid a run-off and be declared victor. He would have needed 50 percent of the total vote plus one vote.
The McDaniel camp is alleging voter fraud was responsible for Cochran’s victory, primarily because of people who voted in the Democratic primary and then “crossed over” and voted in the Republican run-off, which is not permitted by state law. They have said they expect to find thousands of improper votes from the run-off.
Mississippi does not require individuals to register political party affiliations and people do change party voting preferences. In the past several years, a number of local and state-level elected officials have crossed over, most changing from Democrat to Republican.
Union County Circuit Clerk Phyllis Stanford said the McDaniel people found only four crossover votes among the 3,661 cast here, which she attributed to error rather than fraud. “We don’t have perfect elections but we have fair elections,” she said.
And Stanford said it is just as possible that the crossover voters cast their ballots for McDaniel as for Cochran. “With machine votes there is no way to tell,” she said.
Although the primaries and run-offs are technically held by the respective party executive committees, practicality dictates that Stanford’s office (since she is county registrar) and the county election commissioners do much of the actual election work because of their experience and expertise.
In the case of the Republican run-off, Stanford said she provided Democratic poll books to all the election workers June 24. As each voter came in, all the workers had to do was look in the poll book and see whether the person had indeed voted in the June 3 Democratic primary (whether the person had voted in the Republican primary was irrelevant since that would present no conflict).
The McDaniel people were looking for name changes, unusual marks or any possible anomalies but focusing largely on absentee and affidavit ballots to see if too many were witnessed by the same person, for instance.
A representative of the Cochran campaign was also present Monday to help ensure the impartiality of the investigation.
Since McDaniel announced he would contest the results, the vote spread between him and Cochran has actually grown, partly due to affidavit ballots being confirmed. Initially, it appeared that Cochran won by about 6,400 votes but this week the spread was reported to be closer to 7,670 votes.
A representative of the secretary of state’s office was in Union County for the June 3 primaries, but that was because of its being the first election to require photo IDs for voters, not party affiliation.
Virtually all Union County voters have some form of appropriate ID already and the clerk’s office has only been asked to issue four of the voter-ID-only cards.
Stanford said only three people asked to vote in the primary without have proper identification. They were allowed to vote affidavit ballots, although those ballots would not count unless the voters presented approved identification to Stanford within seven days. She said none of the three returned and those ballots were discarded.
In the run-off, no one needed to vote an affidavit ballot for lack of an approved ID so even though results legally could not be certified for a week, they were effectively done so that night.
Concerning the crossover vote challenge, state law does allow for a court appeal at the county level in the case of suspected fraud but local officials say McDaniel’s next step would be to appeal to the Republican state executive committee first. If that fails, he can move on to the court system.
The state party executive committee has certified the results so unless there is some change, Cochran will face Democratic nominee and former Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers and Reform candidate Shawn O’Hara in the general election Nov. 4.