July 17, 2014 10:19:14 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Representatives for state Sen. Chris McDaniel filed an order of mandamus with Oktibbeha County Circuit Court on Friday seeking an emergency hearing and full access to the county's run-off election materials, information they attest was kept from them by Circuit Clerk Glenn Hamilton for privacy reasons.
Hamilton said his office made redacted information available to the McDaniel campaign - officials hid voters' birthdates and other sensitive information - but the senator's representatives were uninterested in viewing the censored documents.
As of Wednesday, McDaniel, who has yet to concede June's Republican run-off against Sen. Thad Cochran, has election-related lawsuits filed in 18 other Mississippi counties.
A hearing date has not yet been set.
The local filing states Mitchell H. Tyner Sr., one of three Mississippi attorneys listed as representing McDaniel, gave Hamilton a three-day notice on July 3 for examining Oktibbeha County election materials. When a designee arrived to the annex on July 7, the filing states, Hamilton and deputy clerks refused to grant full access to all of the materials.
"Though (Hamilton) permitted access to selected and limited election documentation, defendant refused to permit access to poll books and voting records ... for the purpose of assuring persons who voted in the ... Democratic primary were not allowed to cast an unlawful vote in the ... Republican primary run-off election," the filing states.
Hamilton denied access to the information, the document states, due to privacy concerns and public records' disclosure requirements. Tyner's filing states those claims are groundless, asserting the McDaniel representative is expressly authorized by state election law.
"We copied every page in our poll book and redacted the birthdays off of them," Hamilton said. "We offered that information, but they didn't want it."
Mississippi law states any candidate or his or her designee, authorized by writing, may examine ballot boxes within 12 days after election commission or party executive committee canvasing, provided a three-day notice is given.
Tyner held a press conference Wednesday in Jackson and said a full election challenge could come within the next 10 days. A call to Tyner went unreturned at press time.
Cochran won June's second battle with McDaniel by 7,667 statewide votes, or 51 percent of the 382,197 ballots cast. Voter turnout for the incumbent U.S. senator ballooned in many counties compared to the June 3 Republican Primary, but the McDaniel campaign alleges many ballots were illegally cast statewide.
Mississippi voters do not register by party, but those who first vote in a Democratic or Republican primary can only vote in the same party's run-off election during that election cycle. Crossover voting is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $200 fine.
Sample ballots for November's general election must be given to local election officials by Sept. 10 Cochran officials have dismissed McDaniel's claims and say they are focusing their efforts on November's race against former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, a Democrat, and Reform Party candidate Shawn O'Hara.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch