Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann is accusing his Republican primary opponent, Mississippi Sen. Chris McDaniel, of committing voter fraud after a Substack report questioned whether the four-term state senator lives at the Jones County residence where he is registered to vote.
McDaniel, who is challenging the lieutenant governor for his job in the Aug. 8 primaries, insisted in a statement today that “Ellisville is currently and will always be my family’s home,” referring to his house on South Court Street. He said his family does stay at least part of the time at a house located outside his Senate district in Laurel, but that it is not his primary residence.
But Hosemann’s statement this morning said “it appears doubtful that he lived in his district, which means he voted illegally.”
“Voting is the cornerstone of our Constitution,” the lieutenant governor said. “I call upon the Attorney General and the District Attorney of Jones County to investigate this alleged illegal activity and determine before August 8 whether the voters of Mississippi has (sic) been misled and its election laws violated.”
William Browning, who previously worked for The Commercial Dispatch, reported on his Substack on July 19 that no one appeared to reside at the Ellisville home where McDaniel is registered. Public records show McDaniel owns the property, which is located on South Court Street.
“In four-plus years I’ve never seen any activity at the home. Curtains are always drawn. No lights ever appear on. The backyard gazebo, where McDaniel says he prayed about entering the 2014 U.S. Senate race, looks abandoned,” wrote Browning, who said he lives less than a mile from the house. Browning also wrote that he obtained public records showing that, in recent years, water usage at the residence has been low or, at times, turned off entirely. The Greenwood Commonwealth’s Tim Kalich followed up with an op-ed on the issue.
The Substack report said that McDaniel’s campaign told him the house “remains occupied and central to the McDaniel family’s daily lives,” but that they had been “forced to spend nights elsewhere” because of black mold in the house while contractors address the issue. The report also said that the senator and his family often spend nights in Jackson due to his legislative duties.
Asked for comment this morning, the McDaniel campaign sent the Mississippi Free Press a statement nearly identical to one it sent Browning previously.
“While renovations are underway to protect the health and safety of my children, our home is visited daily by my family. It remains our legal domicile, and we have no intent of ever abandoning our forever home,” the statement said.
The Jones County senator said his family does not stay in the Ellisville house at night because his son is allergic to black mold growing in the walls, but that family members continue to visit the house daily. He said costs associated with caring for his ailing mother-in-law, who has advanced-stage Parkinson’s disease, have prevented them from doing the renovations necessary to make the house safe for his family.
‘That’s My Mom’s House. It’s Not Mine.’
When then-Jackson Free Press reporter Nick Judin visited McDaniel at his home to interview him for a story in 2019, the house he visited was not the 2,400-square-foot one in Ellisville; it was at a 6,800-square-foot home on Hillcrest Drive in Laurel. (Judin is now a reporter for the Mississippi Free Press). Public property records show that the Laurel house is owned by Charlotte McDaniel, Chris McDaniel’s mother.
The secretary of state’s polling place locator shows that the Hillcrest Drive home is located in Senate District 34, a 59%-Black, Democratic-leaning district represented by Democratic Sen. Juan Barnett. McDaniel represents Senate District 42, a 76%-white, Republican-leaning district that includes his Ellisville house.
Reached for follow-up comments on the Laurel house, McDaniel confirmed that he and his family live there part-time, but said it is not his home.
“That’s my mom’s house. It’s not mine,” he said.
At times, the senator added, he and his wife stay at the house in Laurel to take care of his sick mother-in-law, who would not be able to as easily stay in the Ellisville house even if it were mold-free because of its layout and the fact that it is elevated off the ground. He said the bathrooms in the Laurel house are more suited to her care and its larger bedrooms make it easier for her to move around with her walker, unlike the smaller rooms in the 1880s-era Ellisvile home.
“We use (the Laurel) house to care for her. It’s not full-time, but it’s a lot of time because she’s suffering from advanced Parkinson’s,” McDaniel added.
He said the families have to “float” between multiple residences in Ellisville, Laurel and Jackson because of his work as a senator and his mother-in-law’s illness. Even so, the senator said, the Ellisville home remains his legal domicile and where the family intends to return full-time once they are able to pay for renovations.
“Domicile is established by intent,” McDaniel said. “… That’s why we kept all the clothes there. The electricity’s still on. The water’s on. It’s just that as long as my son gets that sick, we can’t spend the night there.”
The family also receives their mail at the location, and his children attend the local school associated with the Ellisville house, South Jones High, he said; his wife, Jill McDaniel, also teaches at South Jones Elementary School.
“It is our domicile. We treat it as and it remains the center of our activity,” Sen. McDaniel said.
Hosemann Attorney Asks AG For Investigation
Spencer Ritchie, an attorney for Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann’s campaign, sent a letter to Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch and Jones County District Attorney Brad R. Thompson this morning urging that they “immediately open an investigation into whether Mr. McDaniel has violated the law.” The attorney also asked that “this investigation conclude before August 8 to prevent Mississippi law from being broken.”
“As you know, any individual may vote only in the district and precinct where they reside. Miss. Code Ann. §23-15-11,” the letter says. “If an individual attempts to vote in a precinct where they do not reside, their vote may be properly challenged and rejected. … More importantly, under Mississippi law, it is a crime to register and/or vote in a voting district and precinct other than where one lives.”
Ritchie noted that former Attorney General Jim Hood and the Forrest County district attorney prosecuted Cory Ferraez, who ran for a state House seat in 2017, for voting in a district where he did not reside.
Republican primary voters will choose between Hosemann and McDaniel in the Aug. 8 primaries.
Voters who were registered to vote by July 10 can choose to vote on Aug. 8, 2023, in either the Republican or Democratic primaries, where they will select nominees for all statewide and legislative offices. The general election will follow on Nov. 7, 2023.
Voters should bring an accepted form of voter ID to the polls or may have to cast an affidavit ballot; those without an accepted form of ID can obtain a free voter ID from their county circuit clerk’s office.
Nick Judin contributed to this report.