By Emily Le Coz
JACKSON Miss. (Reuters) - Chris McDaniel, a Tea Party-backed Mississippi U.S. Senate candidate, is preparing a possible legal challenge to his defeat in last month's Republican primary after supporters spent Monday sorting through voting records in dozens of counties, campaign officials said.
The conservative state senator has blamed his loss to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran on what he describes as illegal voting by Democrats who favored the six-term incumbent.
The primary election is scheduled to be certified on Monday evening by the state Republican party, which will forward the results to the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office, party spokesman Bobby Morgan said.
McDaniel and his supporters allege that the Democrats in question voted in the Democratic primary and then in the Republican runoff, which is against election rules.
“There were several thousand absolute ineligible votes,” Mitch Tyner, a lawyer for the McDaniel campaign, told reporters on Monday. “We want to weed those out.”
McDaniel lost the June 24 runoff to Cochran by more than 6,700 votes. Tyner declined to specify how many voting irregularities the McDaniel campaign had uncovered, or how many of those resulted from crossover voting.
The campaign, which has also vowed to review absentee ballots, has not made public evidence backing its allegations of wrongdoing.
The Cochran campaign, which courted black Democrats before the runoff to broaden its base, has dismissed McDaniel's assertions as unfounded.
Cochran campaign supporters were in all 82 county courthouses on Monday to monitor the review of ballot boxes, with only a few crossover votes in evidence, Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell said.
"As the process moves forward, the conversation is shifting from wild, baseless accusations to hard facts," Russell said by email. "As we have said from the beginning, the run-off results are clear: the majority of Mississippians voted for Senator Thad Cochran."
If McDaniel chooses to fight the results, he must first challenge them with the state Republican party, said Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman for the Secretary of State's office. If the party does not grant him a new election, he can take his case to state court, she said.
A court challenge would likely face an uphill battle, said Matthew Steffey, an election law expert at the Mississippi College School of Law.
“It’s hard to overturn elections, and it should be,” Steffey said. “Unless the process itself is corrupt, courts are reluctant to get involved.”
(Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Peter Cooney)