McDaniel case gets under way today in court
Wednesday, July 23, 2014 1:00 AM
A hearing was to get underway this morning at the courthouse in a suit filed by Sen. Chris McDaniel against Neshoba County Circuit Clerk Patti Duncan Lee, alleging she "withheld voter records" while his representative canvased ballots from the June 24 Republican runoff election in the race for U. S. Senate.
In the suit, McDaniel claimed that Lee allegedly withheld voting records when two people representing his campaign went to canvass the ballots in the Neshoba County courthouse in early July.
In response to the suit, Lee said she "properly followed the law" and gave McDaniel's representatives more than what they wanted.
Circuit Court Judge, Place 1 Marcus Gordon was to preside over the hearing beginning at 9 a.m.
In the midst of McDaniel's quest for voting irregularities, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled Thursday that circuit clerks must redact voters' birth dates before poll books are open for public inspection.
The Justices ruled that poll books are controlled by the state Public Records Act, which specifies that Social Security numbers, telephone numbers, dates of birth and age information must be removed before the public can examine certain documents.
McDaniel, represented by plaintiffs attorney Mitch Tyner of Jackson, filed a writ of mandamus on July 10 commanding Lee to "obey and perform the requirements of state law."
The suit claims Lee denied McDaniel representatives access to poll books and other election materials due to "privacy concerns" and "public records disclosure requirements."
McDaniel is claiming that as a candidate he has more of a right to access election records than a "member of the general public."
Lee said she followed the law and believes Judge Gordon will rule just like the state Supreme Court ruled last Thursday.
She said she gave the duo what they wanted, a ballot box examination which allowed them the review the contents in the boxes.
"A poll book review is different because poll books are not in the ballot boxes," the Circuit Clerk said. "They [the representatives] were welcome to do a poll book review, but they could not review it and the ballot boxes simultaneously."
Lee commended the county's election commissioners and poll workers for how fair and well-handled elections are run.
The writ says the McDaniel camp gave Lee a three-day notice on Thursday, July 3 before examination of election boxes.
On July 7-8, Spencer Harrell and Larry Fulton, both from the Jackson area and representing McDaniel, canvassed ballots and poll books and claimed that there were irregularities.
Jarrod Solomon also appeared on behalf of the Cochran campaign.
Harrell and Fulton requested a breakdown of the number of voters in each voting precinct for the county.
Lee said this is not information that is "naturally covered" during the ballot box canvassing, but provided this information for them anyway.
Neshoba County Election Commissioner Harold Richardson, who along with Lee monitored the canvassing, said he would not call the representatives' findings voting irregularities.
A response on behalf of Lee by County Attorney Wade White said: "McDaniel's representatives were given access" to the information they requested and that Lee denies the allegation she "refused to permit access to poll books and voting records."
"Mr. Fulton and Mr. Harrell left with the information they requested and after viewing all the documents they requested to view," the response said. "All appeared well as all left well."
The Cochran camp has also had representatives in all 82 counties reviewing ballots. They are still reviewing boxes in three counties.
So far, the Cochran campaign has reported finding only 909 questionable votes statewide, including five votes in Neshoba County.
After defeating the six-term Senator in the June 3 primary, McDaniel narrowly lost to Thad Cochran in the June 24 runoff.
Cochran strategist Austin Barbour said Wednesday that the incumbent's campaign is turning his attention to the general election. The Nov. 4 ballot will also include Democratic former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers and the Reform Party's Shawn O'Hara.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.