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Mississippi state senator Chris McDaniel announced at a news conference on Monday that he is formally challenging his runoff loss to Senator Thad Cochran. Cochran won the Mississippi Republican primary runoff in June by 7,667 votes. But McDaniel’s lawyer, Mitch Tyner, argues that 15,000 votes are invalid.

Cochran triumphed largely because he was able to drum up Democratic support, especially from black voters in the state. Mississippi has an open primary, meaning that Democrats who didn’t vote in their party’s primary could participate in the Republican runoff. But McDaniel and other conservative groups have claimed that many Democratic votes should not have been allowed, and that McDaniel is the real winner.

The formal challenge states that election officials “did not maintain proper control of the election process,” and that too many people were allowed to vote via absentee ballot.

Tyner said that the campaign identified 3,500 voters who cast ballots in both primaries (which on its own wouldn’t be enough to invalidate the runoff), and over 10,000 votes that should be invalidated (9,500 questionable votes, and 2,275 improper absentee ballots).

One of those votes belongs to Cochran’s spokesman, Jordan Russell. McDaniel’s challenge states that Russell’s vote is being questioned because “there was no reason given for voting absentee.”

In the news conference, Tyner said that McDaniel doesn’t want another election; he just wants the state Republican executive committee to declare him the winner. McDaniel’s team wants the committee to hold a public hearing on the issue on August 12.

The formal challenge claims that Cochran’s team bought votes, despite a lack of evidence. It also argues that Democrats who plan to vote Democratic in the general election cannot vote in the Republican primary, citing a Mississippi state provision, and that Republicans “suffered a constitutional injury” in the runoff because they have a right to not be associated with Democrats.

Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen is skeptical. As he wrote, before the runoff the provision was widely viewed as “unenforceable,” as there is no way to prove whom a primary voter is thinking of voting for in the general election. “Neither the party nor the court will count [the Democratic votes] as fraud,” he predicted.

McDaniel’s campaign has also made it clear that he specifically wants to question the black votes that went to Cochran. The official press release that his team sent out stated, “Thad Cochran lost Republican votes in the runoff and made up the difference with Democrat votes.” But the original press release, obtained by The Daily Caller, had said “black Democrat” instead of just “Democrat.”

McDaniel’s challenge also suggests that the committee entirely discount the votes from Hinds County, which is 69 percent black, as their regression shows that McDaniel would have won by 25,000 votes without Democratic participation in the county.

The challenge concludes, “The June 24 election was a product of Democrat and unlawful votes. It does not reflect the will of the qualified Republican electors of Mississippi.”

According to Hasen, McDaniel’s odds of being declared the winner are almost nonexistent.

“There is nothing here that meets the standard to show enough fraud in the election to require it to be overturned,” he writes. “At most this shows that the elections were not administered competently in some jurisdictions.”

This isn’t just a local dispute. The Senate Conservatives Fund, of which former Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli is now president, is committed to helping McDaniel challenge Cochran.

“When you look at what they did — the Establishment did — to try to hold onto their power, I mean, they literally adopted Democrat — worst Democrat — tactics,” he told The Washington Examiner. “The race-baiting, the pimping-out welfare and et cetera is what Thad Cochran was doing and the super PAC was doing.”

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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