It's no secret that Democrats in Mississippi, consigned to losing the general Senate election in November, turned out Tuesday night to support incumbent Republican Thad Cochran against a Tea Party primary challenger. But in doing so, they may have run afoul of state election laws.
The sour-grapes allegation of mass voter fraud by state Democrats was leveled this morning on Twitter by mild-mannered lunatic Bryan J. Fisher, the Tupelo-based attack dog of the evangelical conservative American Family Association, who supported Cochran's right-wing challenger Chris McDaniel:
It's absurd. But as Twitter user Brian Carnell pointed out, Mississippi's election law appears equally absurd:
Carnell is citing MS Code § 23-15-575 (2013), which states:
No person shall be eligible to participate in any primary election unless he intends to support the nominations made in the primary in which he participates.
That's weird language. A plain reading of it sure seems to suggest that Democrats who voted for Cochran in the GOP primary but do not support him against the Democratic candidate in the general election are guilty of... something. Of course, it also suggests that any Tea Partiers or disgruntled Republicans who voted for McDaniel in the primary, but don't vote for Cochran in the general, are equally guilty of... something.
In essence, we wouldn't conceivably know who's breaking the law until the general election is held in November. And even then, we could divine that someone was breaking the law based on final vote tallies, but we couldn't know who is a criminal unless we somehow made their secret ballots public.
Amazingly, if McDaniel—who made a big show of not conceding defeat on election night—wants to challenge the primary votes, this vague quirk in the state election law is probably where he'll strike. But good luck hanging your hat on that crappy and ultimately unenforceable law, writes election expert Rick Hasen:
Everyone knew before the election who was allowed to vote — basically anyone who did not vote in the Democratic primary a few weeks ago. This is longstanding practice; heck, McDaniel himself apparently voted in a Democratic primary in 2003.
So the idea that the courts are going to come in and subtract an uncertain number of "illegal" Democratic votes cast presumably for Cochran seems most unlikely.
Of course, being a Tea Partier and a Mississippian, McDaniel is no stranger to melodramatic lost causes, so maybe he goes through with the legal case anyway:
The reason to bring such a suit is to delegitimize Cochran's win, and to keep McDaniel's supporters fired up with incendiary talk of a "stolen" election. That might be good for McDaniel to keep his supporters happy, but it will win him no friends in the Republican establishment if he wants to run for something else going forward. Indeed, given Cochran's fragility I would be very surprised to see him serve out another full 6 year term, so there may be an opportunity for U.S. Senator McDaniel not to far from now, if he doesn't burn too many bridges.
McDaniel will probably burn those bridges. Which could be a double boon for Mississippians: It could keep him out of the Senate, and it could give the state's courts a chance to fix its dumb election law.