McDaniel camp canvases ballots
Wednesday, July 9, 2014 1:00 AM
In a first step toward challenging the U.S. Senate election, Chris McDaniel representatives were in all 82 counties this week canvassing ballots and looking for irregularities.
A McDaniel representative, left, turned his back to the camera as Election Commissioner Harold Richardson opens precinct boxes.
Despite claims by McDaniel representatives in Neshoba County, Election Commissioner Harold Richardson, who monitored the canvassing, said their findings were not what he would call voting irregularities.
"They haven't told us what the irregularities are," he said. "They don't know what they are and we don't know what they are."
Richardson said two representatives had a large stack of papers with what they called irregularities.
Back for a second day on Tuesday, the McDaniel representatives refused to speak to a Neshoba Democrat reporter and complained they were intimidated by the reporter's presence. When one of the McDaniel reps walked toward the reporter, Richardson stepped in between.
In an upstairs room in the Neshoba County Courthouse, the McDaniel representatives and one Cochran representative examined ballot boxes while Circuit Clerk Patti Duncan Lee and Richardson observed on Monday and Tuesday.
Late Tuesday they were all gone and Lee said the representatives were done and she had not been told if there were any irregularities.
After questioning Richardson about the way elections are handled in the county, he told them that "we are going to do it our way."
"They do things differently in other counties than we do," Richardson said. "Our way may not be the best way and it may not be a perfect way, but it's our way. I would not go into your house and tell you what to do.
"I think we run a clean election in Neshoba County and we know what we are doing," he continued.
The representatives took note of who was in the room. One asked a Democrat reporter what his name was.
After the reporter refused to tell his name, the angered McDaniel representative stood up and began walking toward the reporter.
Richardson, holding up his hands, told the man to sit back down.
Both campaigns have representatives in all 82 counties this week examining ballot boxes.
As of Monday afternoon, the Cochran campaign released a statement that 40 percent of Neshoba County's June 24 ballots had been examined and no irregularities were found.
"We have representatives at all 82 courthouses to monitor the review of ballot boxes and have been pleased with the results," campaign spokesman Jordan Russell said.
"The county by county results reported thus far are revealing an extremely low number of crossover votes from the June 24 election," Russell said. "As the process moves forward, the conversation is shifting from wild, baseless accusations to hard facts."
Thirteen Mississippi residents and a Texas group, True the Vote, filed suit last Tuesday over access to poll books from the Republican primary runoff between Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel.
Cochran received about 7,700 more votes than McDaniel which is 900 votes more than what was tallied from the night of the runoff.
Sen. Cochran would face Democrat nominee Travis Childers in the Nov. 4 general election.
"In the event the secretary of state's office is made aware of any person voting in both a Democratic primary and a Republican primary, those individuals' names will be forwarded to the district attorney and attorney general for whatever prosecutorial action they deem appropriate,' said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
McDaniel said, "The most important issue here is maintaining the integrity of the electoral process here in Mississippi.'
Cochran's Russell scoffed at the McDaniel strategy.
"He doesn't care about the integrity of the process,' Russell said of McDaniel. "He only cares about drawing attention to himself, staying in the spotlight and raising money."
Last Wednesday, a Cochran media conference call involving reporters from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others was hijacked by McDaniel supporters.
Cochran Senior Adviser Austin Barbour said it was time for the McDaniel camp to "put up or shut up."
"We've been very gracious to Sen. McDaniel and their supporters about their efforts," he said. "The time now has come, we as the Cochran campaign can no longer sit silent with all the baseless accusations that have been said."
Minutes into the call, an unidentified male began asking Barbour why the Cochran campaign harvested black votes like black people used to pick cotton.
After multiple outbursts, Barbour told members of the press they had his cell phone and contact information and if they had any questions to call. Then he left the call.
But despite the conference call being over, that didn't end the conversation as McDaniel supporters began arguing among themselves. They even began to claim the man who interrupted was a Cochran plant to avoid "hard" questions.
After a good seven minutes of rambling, an unidentified woman commanded attention and told everyone on the line the call was being recorded and nobody knew who, from either campaign or the media, were still listening.
"If you are supporters of McDaniel, I suggest the best thing to do is not talk about this with anyone and everyone on the line," she said.
Blogger Charles C. Johnson sent out a Tweet mid-afternoon of the press conference urging people to "crash" the conference call - and that they did.
Johnson is a self-proclaimed investigative journalist who published a story on his blog www.gotnews.com last Monday night alleging that the Cochran campaign paid black voters $15 for votes on June 24.
Johnson's only source was Rev. Stevie Fielder of Meridian, an individual who has been charged multiple times with fraud. Johnson admitted to paying Fielder for the story.
McDaniel has formally filed a legal notice that it intends to contest the results of the June 24 runoff against Cochran, a six-term incumbent. At least two lawsuits from McDaniel allies are in the works, one demanding the release of election records, the other accusing Mississippi authorities of culpability in the suicide of a Mississippi Tea Party leader on June 27.
The open-ended nature of the Mississippi Republican civil war injects an element of uncertainty. By serving a notice of intent to contest the results, McDaniel will have 10 days from the official certification of Cochran's victory on Monday to gather evidence and file an appeal.
If, as expected, that appeal is filed, the Mississippi Republican Party would almost certainly reject it, sending the matter to the courts. Lawyers involved in the McDaniel case said they would be aiming for a new run-off election by mid-September.
Noel Fritsch, a spokesman for the McDaniel campaign, claims the campaign and its allies have identified 4,900 "irregular" ballots, with 31 counties and 19,000 absentee ballots still to be examined.
By checking voter rolls, McDaniel allies can identify Mississippians who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary and match them against names of people who voted in the Republican runoff, although they would be prohibited from voting in both. That will not tell them whether two-time voters cast ballots in the runoff for McDaniel or Cochran.
The Cochran campaign calls the McDaniel figures for ineligible voters wildly exaggerated. And while some number of miscast votes might be found, nowhere near enough will be uncovered to change the results, said Austin Barbour, a Cochran campaign adviser.
He pointed to the Eastover precinct in Jackson where the McDaniel camp says 130 disputed ballots have been identified. But only 35 Democrats voted in that precinct on June 3.
"It had always been our hope that after the runoff ended, we could move to the general election. We've been gracious to Senator McDaniel," Barbour said. "Unfortunately the time has come that we in the Cochran campaign can no longer sit silent about these baseless accusations."
The accusations are not going away.
McDaniel is raising money nationally to try to force a revote. On Thursday, he declared his intention to fund 15 $1,000 rewards for people who bring forward evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in voter fraud. And groups like FreedomWorks and the Madison Project have vowed their support.
The Associated Press and The New York Times contributed to this article.