Legal sparks fly in Mississippi's latest GOP election dustup

After last deadline, clerks can send runoff results to Secretary of State

jphampton @sunherald.comJuly 1, 2014 

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Thad Cochran speaks to the Harrison County Republican Club Wednesday night.

TIM ISBELL — SUN HERALD Buy Photo

GULFPORT -- The circus the Republican runoff has become sparked one lawsuit Tuesday and the threat of another. And the results aren't even official yet.

Circuit clerks across the Coast this morning will send certified results from the June 24 Republican runoff for the U.S. Senate to the Secretary of State's Office.

Those results are already the subject of a suit by the Chris McDaniel-backing True the Vote. That suit against the Mississippi Republican Party and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann seeks to immediately examine records from the runoff, which was won by Sen. Thad Cochran.

Hosemann's office referred questions about the suit to the Attorney General's Office, which would defend the state in any suit. A spokeswoman for the AG's office said the suit is

being reviewed.

Cochran's campaign also is threatening legal action against a former campaign worker over a story that alleges the Cochran campaign bought votes. Cochran's spokesman Jordan Russell said Stevie Fielder, who told blogger Charles Johnson that Cochran's team gave him money to pay $15 a vote, is lying.

He said Fielder actually was paid $300 for two vans and the drivers to drive people around to knock on doors to drum up support for the senator, who came in second to McDaniel in the June 3 primary. Neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote so it went to a runoff.

Secret business

The Republican Party executive committee met in a closed session Tuesday to start collecting the vote totals from the counties. The committee unanimously gave its approval to the party to gather the certified totals from the counties and pass them on to the Secretary of State by Monday, party Chairman Joe Nosef said.

Democratic Executive Director Rickey Cole said his party does its work in public and he thinks it's improper to conduct election business in secret.

"But that's their baby, so I'll let them rock it," he said, though he did see a silver lining. "This sheds light on the conduct of the primary and the way candidates run campaigns.

"It's been a mystery to too many Mississippians for far too long."

Democrat Travis Childers is awaiting Cochran in the November general election.

After the results have been sent to the secretary of state, challenges can be filed with the executive committee, Nosef said in an email to county officials.

Looking at the books

Volunteers with the McDaniel campaign are examining election books in Harrison County looking for irregularities they hope will flip the election to McDaniel, who lost to Cochran by more than 6,000 votes in the runoff.

McDaniel campaign spokesman Noel Fritsch said volunteers have found more than 3,300 "irregular votes" after examining fewer than half of Mississippi's counties.

"That total does not include the Delta counties or even absentee ballots, which are sure to include many more irregularities," Fritsch said Tuesday.

The Cochran campaign said that number is exaggerated and includes clerical errors that aren't problematic votes.

"We've had people there watching, too, to see rules have been followed," said Cochran campaign spokesman Russell. "Their numbers are wildly exaggerated. For instance, in one county where they say they found 200 illegal votes, only 37 Democrats voted on June 3."

The McDaniel campaign says Democrats voted in both the Democratic primary June 3 and the Republican runoff June 24. Only people who voted in the Republican primary or didn't vote at all were eligible to vote in the June 24 runoff.

Hancock and Jackson County officials said no one may examine election materials there until after the counties certify the results.

The Harrison County Circuit Clerk said an attorney for the McDaniel campaign has asked to look at the ballot boxes there.

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