- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Republican state Sen. Melanie Sojourner has become the third legislative candidate trying to overturn a loss in last month’s Mississippi election.

Sojourner filed a petition Wednesday with the state Senate, saying she believes voting irregularities should invalidate the Nov. 3 victory by Democratic former Sen. Bob Dearing. The other two petitions had already been filed in House races.

Certified results show Dearing defeated Sojourner by 64 votes in District 37, which includes Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties. Both candidates are from Natchez, in Adams County. Dearing received 8,218 votes to Sojourner’s 8,154.

Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will appoint a Senate committee to consider Sojourner’s challenge. Following Senate precedent, he will make the appointments after the legislative session begins in January, spokeswoman Laura Hipp said Thursday.

Sojourner’s petition includes sworn statements by Anita Leonard, a GOP poll watcher at the Bude precinct in Franklin County. Leonard wrote that she saw three poll workers provide assistance to voters who didn’t need it because they were not blind or illiterate. Leonard also said she saw two poll workers fail to check voters’ photo identification. Sojourner’s petition also has a similar statement by Carl E. Cupit, a Republican precinct bailiff in Bude. He says poll workers who acted improperly are Democrats.

Sojourner asks the Senate to toss out all votes from the Bude precinct and says that would give her 8,020 votes and Dearing 7,842 in the rest of the district. Campaign spokesman Keith Plunkett said Sojourner’s petition shows “a very credible and compelling list of infractions.”

“We believe this clearly shows that had it not been for criminal voter fraud, Sen. Sojourner would have been re-elected,” Plunkett said Thursday.

Dearing said in a phone interview Thursday that he had not read Sojourner’s filing.

“I have confidence that the votes in Senate District 37 were legally cast, that the votes were counted accurately by the election commissioners, that they and the circuit clerks properly exercised their duties and that I won the general election,” Dearing said.

In 2011, Sojourner unseated Dearing after he had served in the Senate 32 years.

This is not Sojourner’s first involvement in challenging election results. In 2014, she was campaign manager for fellow state Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, who lost a contentious Republican primary runoff in a U.S. Senate race to longtime incumbent Thad Cochran. McDaniel sued, unsuccessfully, to try to overturn his loss to Cochran, claiming the runoff was tainted by voting irregularities.

The Mississippi Constitution says disputes about the outcome of legislative elections are decided by the state House and Senate, with each chamber handling its own disputed races.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has already appointed a committee to handle two challenges after the session begins.

One petition was filed by Republican Mark Tullos of Raleigh, who seeks to overturn his loss to five-term Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton of Taylorsville. Each received 4,589 votes in the District 79 race in Smith and Jasper counties in the general election, and Eaton won a tiebreaker in a drawing of straws.

The other petition was filed by Tasha Dillon, who lost to five-term Rep. David Myers in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary in District 98 in Pike and Walthall counties. Dillon lost by 144 votes, but she said voting irregularities should invalidate Myers’ victory. Both are from McComb.

Committees will recommend what the House or Senate should do in each race: seat the winner, seat the petitioner or order a new election.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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