'Put up or shut up' on fraud
Wednesday, July 2, 2014 1:00 PM
A Thad Cochran media conference call ended abruptly after it was hijacked by challenger Chris McDaniel supporters Wednesday afternoon.
McDaniel, a state senator, lost the June 24 run-off election by nearly 7,000 votes in the U.S. Senate Republican Primary, yet has made it clear he's the nominee and plans to challenge the results.
Madison County voters delivered Cochran 2,300 more votes in the June 24 run-off, not counting absentee and affidavit ballots. Election officials were certifying results Wednesday and precinct totals were not available at press time.
The hijacking was organized by a blogger who earlier in the week published a story alleging Cochran campaign staffers had committed voter fraud.
The conference call that included reporters from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor, ended when a man repeatedly interrupted asking about blacks picking cotton in Mississippi.
Before the conference call disintegrated into a ruckus, Cochran senior adviser Austin Barbour said it was time for the McDaniel camp to "put up or shut up," indicating that if there was evidence of voter fraud, which his supporters have claimed since the election, then now is the time to show it.
"We've been very gracious to Sen. McDaniel and their supporters about their efforts," he said. "The time now has come, we as the Cochran campaign can no longer sit silent with all the baseless accusations that have been said."
He said the success on June 24 was a result of a massive "get out the vote" effort across the state and nothing more.
Barbour said if there are facts to prove otherwise, they would have been released by now.
Minutes into the call, an unidentified male began asking Barbour why the Cochran campaign harvested black votes like black people used to pick cotton. After multiple outbursts, Barbour told members of the press they had his cell phone and contact information and if they had any questions to call. Then he left the call.
But despite the conference call being over, that didn't end the conversation as McDaniel supporters began arguing among themselves. They even began to claim the man who interrupted was a Cochran plant to avoid "hard" questions.
"That was a setup so it can get out in the media," one woman proclaimed.
"If he was a Chris supporter he did not do Chris any favors," someone remarked.
After a good seven minutes of rambling, an unidentified woman commanded attention and told everyone on the line the call was being recorded and nobody knew who, from either campaign or the media, were still listening.
"If you are supporters of McDaniel, I suggest the best thing to do is not talk about this with anyone and everyone on the line," she said.
Within seconds people began saying goodbye and the commotion was over, until a President Obama impostor called in. Still, people were asking periodically who was on the line.
Upset the conference call was only for credentialed media, the blogger, Charles C. Johnson sent out a Tweet mid-afternoon urging people to "crash" the conference call - and that they did.
As the call got under way there was the incessant beep of people joining, dogs barking in the background, loud televisions, snorting and people talking among themselves.
Despite the commotion, Barbour held his cool, often reminding callers to mute their phones as a courtesy to others.
The spectacle was just the latest headline-grabbing event in the senate race since last Tuesday's run-off.
Johnson is a self-proclaimed investigative journalist who published a story on his blog www.gotnews.com Monday night alleging that the Cochran campaign paid black voters $15 for votes on June 24.
Johnson's only source was Rev. Stevie Fielder of Meridian, an individual who has been charged multiple times with fraud. Johnson admitted to paying Fielder for the story. Screenshots of Fielder's cell phone showed ambiguous text messages between Saleem O Baird, a Cochran campaign staffer, asking for names and addresses of individuals for cash envelopes.
The Cochran campaign said Johnson's "story" was ludicrous and fabricated and that the $15 being referred to was for volunteers and the GOTV effort, hence the need for names and addresses for finance reports.
On Friday, Tea Party supporter and local attorney Mark Mayfield committed suicide at his home in Ridgeland (See story A1). Mayfield was one of four arrested in May for trying to take pictures of Cochran's informed wife, Rose, at St. Catherine's Village in Madison. Mayfield was charged with conspiracy, not actually taking the photographs, although his role in the alleged crime has not been revealed.
With no signs of letting down any time soon, on Tuesday an organization based in Houston, Texas, filed a federal lawsuit against the Mississippi GOP and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann over failure to access voter books, amongst other things.
True the Vote, an organization proclaiming itself to be about ensuring election integrity, filed the suit with 13 Mississippians. They claim they were denied access to voter books because information had to be redacted and further argued they shouldn't have to pay for redacted copies. This falls in line with claims from McDaniel supporters that the "election was stolen" and there are thousands of irregularities in the state.
The state GOP responded to the lawsuit, saying they should not be a party and hope to be removed soon.
"Yesterday, our State Republican Executive Committee, which includes members who supported each of the candidates, gave the State Party unanimous authorization to complete its work by adding and passing on certified county vote totals to the Secretary of State by Monday, July 7," Chairman Joe Nosef said in a statement. "Subsequently, a lawsuit spearheaded by an out of state group was filed against the Mississippi Secretary of State and the Mississippi Republican Party.
"This lawsuit is based on a misunderstanding of both Mississippi law and the MSGOP's role in the process," he continued. "Since these allegations do not include anything the MSGOP did or is doing wrong, we will ask to be released from this lawsuit soon. In the meantime, we will continue to follow the law and do our work."
On Wednesday, the McDaniel camp sent out fundraising emails asking supporters to donate $50 so he could mount an expensive legal challenge over the results.
"The voters should be able to trust that the manner in which their elected officials are chosen is not compromised, and that the rule of law is adhered to," the McDaniel release stated. "It is vital to be allowed to examine election data to make sure that happens."
The feud continues as Democratic nominee Travis Childers is already preparing for the November contest.
McDaniel and his supporters are exploring legal options to contest Cochran's victory, zeroing in on the Cochran campaign's efforts to bring blacks and other Democratic voters to the polls Tuesday.
The McDaniel camp charged that a partial review of the tallies in Hinds County had turned up nearly 1,000 ballots that were cast by voters who participated in the Democratic primary June 3 and were ineligible under state law to vote in the Republican runoff. McDaniel aides said supporters were reviewing ballots across the state, although they have met resistance in about half of the counties they have approached.
Pete Perry, the Hinds County Republican Party chairman, said the McDaniel campaign's claims were "wildly exaggerated." In the Jackson precinct at Fondren Presbyterian Church, he said, the McDaniel campaign charged that 192 illegal votes had been cast by people who voted in the Democratic primary. But, he said, only 37 Democrats voted there June 3.
"Instead of making wild accusations which stir up social media with cries of fraud and corruption, it would be much better for all involved - the voters, the candidates, the 500 poll workers in Hinds County - if we let facts enter into the conversation," said Perry.
An aide said the search for irregularities would continue until McDaniel had the facts to decide whether to contest the results in court. Mississippi law does not allow for a recount, but a judge could order a new vote. And one of the outside conservative groups that bankrolled McDaniel's campaign, the Madison Project, said it was standing by the candidate.
The chances of a new election are remote, observers say, but a challenge by McDaniel doesn't appear to be ending anytime in the near future.
In the Third District Democratic run-off race for U. S. House of Representatives, Douglas MacArthur (D.M.) Magee who had 51.5 percent was ahead of Dennis Quinn who only had 48.5 at press time.
In Madison County, Magee garnered 64 votes to Quin's 162 votes.
Magee will face Republican nominee incumbent Gregg Harper.
Nearly 25 percent of the county's 74,505 eligible registered voters cast ballots on June 24. This number was up from the June 3 primary. That included 972 absentee ballots.
Tensions remained high in Madison County, too, where members of the Madison County Conservative Coalition called for a boycott of the Journal, SuperTalk radio and other entities that did not share their passion for McDaniel.
Pat Bruce, MCCC chairwoman, sent out an email to members and posted on Facebook that the Journal should be avoided "like the plague."