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Hearings set for 2 state legislative election challenges

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi House and Senate committees are holding hearings this week about disputes over two legislative races.

A Senate panel starts meeting Wednesday to hear testimony about the District 37 race in Adams, Amite, Franklin and Pike counties.

Democrat former Sen. Bob Dearing defeated Republican Sen. Melanie Sojourner by 64 votes in November. Sojourner is seeking to overturn the result by saying she believes the election was improperly conducted. Dearing said the election was fair and he should serve. Both candidates are from Natchez.

A House panel starts meeting Thursday to hear testimony in the District 79 race in Jasper and Smith counties. Democratic Rep. Bo Eaton of Taylorsville and Republican Mark Tullos of Raleigh tied, and Eaton won a tiebreaker by drawing straws. Tullos says he thinks some votes were improperly counted and the race should not have tied, but Eaton says the election was conducted fairly.

Eaton was sworn in for his sixth term when the legislative session started last week, but because the Senate has different operating rules, nobody has been sworn in for the disputed seat in that chamber.

House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have delayed announcing members and chairmen of committees for this four-year term until the two election disputes are resolved. The committees handling the disputes were appointed only for that task, but the assignment of other committees will shape how issues are handled.

"The Senate has ground to a halt until we determine this matter," President Pro Tempore Terry Burton, who is leading that chamber's election challenge committee, said Monday.

Both committees are issuing subpoenas to local election officials and to an attorney for the secretary of state's office. Legislators will question them as sworn witnesses.

Sojourner defeated Dearing in 2011 after he had served 32 years. If he is confirmed as the winner, he will be one of the highest ranking senators based on seniority. Republicans already have a three-fifths supermajority in the Senate, regardless of the outcome of the Dearing-Sojourner race.

If the House overturns Eaton's victory, Republicans would gain a three-fifths supermajority in the House, which would allow the GOP to change tax laws without consulting Democrats.

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