The news came out yesterday afternoon that yet another blow had been dealt to Chris McDaniel’s ongoing challenge to his runoff election against Thad Cochran. The ruling seemed to bear very little – if any – relevance to questions about voting improprieties at the ballot box, and everything to do with some paperwork.
A Mississippi judge has tossed out state Sen. Chris McDaniel’s challenge to that state’s June 24 GOP primary runoff results, ending another chapter in one of the most bitterly contested U.S. Senate primaries in recent memory and bringing longtime Sen. Thad Cochran one step closer to another term in Washington.
Special Judge Hollis McGehee ruled that McDaniel waited too long to file his challenge with state Republican Party. McDaniel filed the challenge 41 days after the election; McGehee said that under state law the challenge had to be filed within 20 days.
Some people are inevitably going to blame the judge – fair enough given the reputation of the political situation at times. But even some of the harshest critics of the decision had originally applauded the choice of McGehee.
Was he bought off? True conservatives and supporters of Chris McDaniel had high hopes when the state supreme court named Judge Hollis McGehee to oversee the court challenge. And judging from his remarks during the case’s first hearing, he seemed to be an honest judge interested in doing what was right. Being a minister and man of God, how could we have expected any less from him? He indicated his intention to decide the case based on the will of the voters and that even if Cochran were elected in November he had the power to unseat him if he were not the legitimate nominee.
Truth be told, you’d be handing even the most even handed judge a tough job in finding in McDaniel’s favor if the opposition opened up with a claim that state law demanded a challenge be filed within 20 days and you’d not done it until more than twice that time had passed. Of course, this is another area where both Team McDaniel and some of his supporters around the country have disagreed. It seems that the law in question is worded in a way which could be interpreted as only applying to county election challenges. But the Cochran team immediately countered by citing a 1959 state supreme court decision arguing to the contrary.
The section of state law on county election challenges says the first step, filing a case with the party’s executive committee, must be done within 20 days of the election. A following section on statewide and district challenges does not contain the deadline language.
But the high court in its 1959 ruling on a Democratic district attorney primary said the code sections were part of a single act passed by the Legislature. It ruled that it would “be senseless” to assume that deadline, aimed to keep general elections on track, would not apply to races for all other offices.
The court said the two sections are “in pari materia,” which I believe is Latin for, look at the whole thing together, dummy.
Give how quickly the clock is running out and the lack of any substantive support in the courts thus far, it’s hard to see where McDaniel goes from here, short of finding a way to appeal directly to the US Supreme Court. And once there, it’s not entirely clear what the new argument would be or how Mississippi would proceed even if SCOTUS found in McDaniel’s favor. Would there be yet another election? And if so, they would have to determine who would be eligible to vote in it, given that the main crux of the argument at this stage is based on residents illegally voting in both the original Democrat primary and then a second time in the runoff. The other option is to simply declare McDaniel the winner absent another vote, but I’ve yet to find anyone citing a precedent in Mississippi for such a move.
McDaniel is supposed to make an announcement about the next steps – if any – next week. But it’s really looking like the available options may have been exhausted.