July 15, 2014 10:30:54 AM
JACKSON -- U.S. Senate challenger Chris McDaniel is taking his quest to view original voting records to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
McDaniel asked Monday for an emergency order forcing Harrison County Circuit Clerk Gayle Parker to let him see original copies of poll books. He's trying to prove people who voted in the June 3 Democratic primary illegally voted in the June 24 Republican runoff won by incumbent U.S. Sen Thad Cochran. Cochran finished with a 7,667-vote margin of victory, according to official results.
McDaniel ultimately is trying to persuade a court to order a new runoff, arguing his loss was tainted by illegality. His lawyers say they have a right to the full original records, including birthdates.
"The candidate has a statutory role, just like the poll workers, just like the executive committee," said state Sen. Michael Watson, R-Pascagoula, a McDaniel supporter and one of his lawyers.
Watson cited an example where a father, son and grandson with the same name lived at the same address in one county as proof that they need the birthdates.
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and some circuit clerks cite a different portion of state election law that bans release of birthdates, and said McDaniel must accept access to the books with that information redacted. Parker said Monday that she had followed advice from Attorney General Jim Hood and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
"It's in the election code and it adopts the Mississippi Public Records Act," said Tim Holleman, a Gulfport lawyer representing Parker.
Holleman said Parker and her employees worked late Friday to redact birthdates out of the original poll books and offer them to McDaniel. He disputes McDaniel's claim that the Ellisville Republican has only been offered copies. He also dismissed Watson's example of the three voters.
"That's one," Holleman said. "Do you think you're going to overturn this whole election with one example?"
Holleman described the McDaniel campaign as "grasping at straws." The bitter aftermath of the June 24 runoff led McDaniel to accuse Hosemann Friday of sending out advice "intended to confuse the clerks so as to prevent full and unfettered access and disclosure."
Hosemann endorsed Cochran in the election. He replied he has no authority over clerks, but Friday called on all citizens to obey the law. He declined comment on Monday's appeal.
Watson said about 20 counties have refused complete access, though he couldn't name them immediately. He said he personally has won orders granting free access in Jones and Greene counties.
Texas group True the Vote said in a federal lawsuit in Jackson over the same issue that Copiah County, Hinds County, Jefferson Davis County, Lauderdale County, Leake County, Madison County, Rankin County, Simpson County, and Yazoo County had refused to offer up full records. The group originally filed suit in Oxford, but shifted it after a judge criticized it.
The group, in court papers, cited tea party supporter and Harrison County election worker Phillip Harding, who swore he had seen an unopened stack of provisional ballots left in a supply bin on July 1 at the Harrison County Election Commission. Harding also swore he found absentee ballot applications and envelopes improperly thrown away.
The group also cited a Noxubee County volunteer who claimed to have found one illegal crossover voter in the east Mississippi county.
A judge has yet to rule on True the Vote's request for an injunction. U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate recused himself Monday, citing "close friendship" with Cochran for more than 30 years. Cochran recommended that President Ronald Reagan appoint Wingate to the bench in 1984.
Chief U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. ordered the case referred to 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Carl Stewart for assignment.
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