McDaniel: We're challenging the election results

Given the bitter nature of the runoff in Mississippi, this probably surprises no one, but it’s also unlikely to produce any further surprises. After a narrow loss to incumbent Senator Thad Cochran, Chris McDaniel refused to concede last night. Instead, he blasted Cochran’s GOTV strategy and promised a challenge to the results:

State Sen. Chris McDaniel will challenge the results of the Tuesday runoff election where 41-year incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran won by about 6,400 votes, he announced to a room of supporters here at his victory party at the Hattiesburg Convention Center late Tuesday evening.

“I want to be very, very clear: There is nothing dangerous or extreme about wanting to balance a budget,” McDaniel said in a fiery speech to supporters. There is nothing dangerous or extreme about defending the Constitution or the civil liberties therein. There is nothing strange at all about standing as people of faith for a country that we built, that we believe in. But there is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual, about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats.” …

“As you know today, folks, there were literally dozens of irregularities reported all across this state,” McDaniel said. “You know why. You read the stories. You’re familiar with the problems that we have. Now it’s our job to make sure that the sanctity of the vote is upheld. Before this race ends, we have to be absolutely certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters. We will stand with courage, we will stand with judgment, we will stand with integrity. This is our fight conservatives. This is necessary. We are not prone to surrender, we Mississippians. A strong and sturdy people we are, a brave people we are, a people that can still lead the conservative revival in this country. We will lead the resurgence. That begins right here in Mississippi.”

Amusingly but also not surprisingly, one of the people urging the challenge is the state Democratic Party chair:

In an interview by phone with Breitbart News late Tuesday evening after the McDaniel headquarters cleared out, state Democratic Party chairman Rickey Cole said McDaniel should challenge the election results. “Clearly there was some sloppiness to say the least, and probably some failures to comply with the law,” Cole told Breitbart News.

No doubt Cole would be delighted with anything that keeps the internecine warfare going a little while longer. However, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger throws a little cold water on expectations that a challenge will change anything:

McDaniel in his speech to supporters in Hattiesburg blamed the loss on “liberal Democrats” voting in the GOP primary runoff and said, “now our job is to make sure the sanctity of this vote is upheld, make sure the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.”

Mississippi technically has an open primary system, and no party registration. It also has a statute – considered unenforceable — that says people should not vote in a party primary unless they plan to support the party’s nominee in a general election. This has been the subject of litigation and calls for closed primaries in the past. But Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and others said that only those who voted Democratic on June 3 were prohibited from voting Tuesday.

That statute is unenforceable for good reason. It ignores the fact that the campaign will go on for several months and that more information might make a candidate a lot less attractive, for one thing. People are allowed to change their minds, after all. Besides, how would this get enforced? Ballots in primaries are cast anonymously, and in Mississippi without party registration. Even if they weren’t anonymous, how would a prosecutor go about proving that a particular voter voted for Cochran while absolutely intending to vote for Democratic nominee Travis Childers in November? It’s a foolish statute, and if that’s the basis of the challenge, it will go exactly nowhere.

Even on the nominal issue of irregularities (which occur in every election), this won’t go far anyway. Challenges and recounts usually have a chance only in extremely narrow ranges, and that means vote counts and not percentages. According to AOSHQDD, which shows 99.73% of all precincts reporting in the Mississippi runoff, Cochran has a lead of 7,214 votes, far more than a challenge can be reasonably expected to reverse. In contrast, the Minnesota recount in 2008 involved a shift of less than 600 votes — which produced lots of complaints from Republicans around the country about the scope of those changes as highly improbable at best.

The McDaniel campaign may end up rethinking this promise in the cool light of day. McDaniel has a long career ahead of him in Mississippi, and Cochran doesn’t, this win notwithstanding. Launching a quixotic challenge over party identification in an open primary won’t win McDaniel any love from the Republican Party, and might end up alienating at least a few of those people who saw him as a better alternative to the pork-barrel politics of yesterday that Cochran represents.  Better to regroup now and fight another day.

Update: Some commenters are pointing to another statute which prohibits voters who cast ballots in the Democratic primary from voting in the runoff as grounds for a challenge. Those laws apply to the voters themselves as fraudulent votes, not the results. First, since those ballots were cast anonymously, you can’t simply deduct them from Cochran. Second, because of that, you’d have to find more than the 7200 vote difference to get a judge to overturn the election. And third, the judge would have to order a new runoff using the same exact system that they used yesterday.

Judges are loathe to overturn elections, and in a state that doesn’t allow for party registration, this is an unlikely scenario for such an outcome.