You may have already heard at least some of the bizarre story about three "Tea Party" supporters of Mississippi's Republican U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel who found themselves locked inside the Hinds County Courthouse around 2am on primary election night last Tuesday. McDaniel himself is now locked in a run-off for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate against six-term Senator Thad Cochran, after the nail-biter on Tuesday which left the two men reportedly about 1,400 votes apart out of more than 300,000 cast.
Ultimately, neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote, so they'll face each other again in a run-off for the GOP nomination on June 24. But the incident that left the three McDaniel supporters calling for help to let them out of the courthouse in the middle of the night after the last election official had locked the door and left almost three hours earlier is more than curious. It has many wondering what the hell the three were doing at the location where ballots are tallied and vote tabulators stored, in one of the last counties to come in with their results on the squeaker of an election night.
The details of the story, and why the three --- one a top campaign official for McDaniel (and a former Presidential campaign staffer for Newt Gingrich) --- were there at all, remain murky. On Wednesday, the Hinds County Sheriff's office said that there were "conflicting stories from the three of them." But by Thursday evening, despite what a Sheriff's spokesman described as a "fabrication" from the President of the Central Mississippi Tea Party who contacted a fellow Hinds County Republican executive committee member to seek his help in getting out of the courthouse, the county decided that she and the two men caught in the courthouse caper along with her broke no laws.
"Based on our findings and subsequent conclusion," the County Sheriff's office announced in a statement, "there is no reason to believe that the three individuals engaged in any criminal activity nor do we believe any laws were broken."
But with one of the original headlines about the story focused on the fact that the three had been locked in the empty courthouse "with ballots on Election Night," there remain a number of questions about what actually happened, despite initial reportage indicating that "ballots had been secured prior to the intrusion" and a subsequent report noting that "some precinct information wasn't sealed."
So, The BRAD BLOG contacted the Hinds County Election Commissioners to get more information on the exact type of voting system used there, which aspects of it might have been vulnerable to the three McDaniel supporters alone inside the courthouse, and what type of information was left unsealed there on election night.
We received detail answers to our questions from one of the five Hinds County Election Commissioners --- the one who would, perhaps, have the most reason to be suspicious of the trio of McDaniel supporters...