- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Republicans’ goal of winning a supermajority in the Mississippi House could be decided by the luck of the draw after certified results showed Thursday that one election in the south central part of the state ended in a tie.

Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton and Republican challenger Mark Tullos each received 4,589 votes in District 79 in Smith and Jasper counties, said Clara Brown, a Smith County deputy circuit clerk.

Officials finished certifying results Thursday, nine days after the election and one day before the certification deadline.

State law says if a multicounty race is tied, the winner is determined “by lot” drawn in public and overseen by the secretary of state and governor.

A Tullos victory would give Republicans 74 of the 122 House seats for the four-year term that starts in January, and that would be a three-fifths supermajority - enough to pass tax or bond bills without Democrats. The GOP currently has 67 seats.

Eaton, a farmer from Taylorsville, has been in the House 20 years and said he wants Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to call a special legislative session before the current term ends in January so legislators could change the way tied elections are decided.

“I think the casting of lots is unfair,” Eaton said Thursday. “I think it’s archaic, and we need to change the law to allow a new election.”

Tullos, an attorney from Raleigh, said he is researching whether he can ask the House to examine the election and determine the winner. Tullos said at one point during the counting process, he was ahead by six votes. He said affidavit votes were found in Smith County for people who live in District 79 but had moved from one precinct to another, and those votes resulted in a tie.

“I’m not questioning the integrity of the clerk or the election commission,” Tullos said.

But, he said he is questioning the method by which the votes were counted. He said he wasn’t aware of the affidavit votes until Tuesday, a week after the election.

In another part of the state, it appears Democratic former Sen. Bob Dearing has defeated Republican Sen. Melanie Sojourner, who unseated him in 2011. Both are from Natchez.

A mix of certified and uncertified results on Thursday showed Dearing 61 votes ahead of Sojourner in District 37, which stretches through Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties.

Sojourner said Thursday that she’s not conceding and is considering whether to challenge the results because of concerns about “the integrity of the election.” State law says a candidate may challenge results within 12 days after an election.

“I’ve had a number of parties reach out to me around the district that just have some real concerns about problematic precincts,” Sojourner said Thursday. She would not specify where those precincts are located or what the problems might be.

Dearing, who served 32 years in the Legislature before losing four years ago, said he’s confident the election was conducted fairly.

“I don’t see anything changing,” Dearing said. “Those numbers are pretty solid, and we’re very optimistic that we’re going to be returning.”

Republicans currently hold a 32-20 majority in the Senate. They picked up another seat last week in a different part of the state. With a loss by Sojourner, the partisan balance would remain at 32-20.


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

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