Write-in ballot count begins in Alaska Senate race

Representatives for would-be Sen. Murkowski or Miller watch as volunteers count more than 92,000 votes

By Becky Bohrer
Published November 10, 2010 6:50PM (EST)

Teams of trained ballot counters began poring over more than 92,000 write-in ballots as the fate of Alaska's Senate race hung in the balance.

Observers from the campaigns of Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller looked on Wednesday as the election workers sorted ballots into five boxes in an old building on the outskirts of Juneau.

Murkowski attorney Ben Ginsberg, part of the Bush-Cheney legal team during the 2000 Florida recount, also was overseeing the process.

The count began as Miller sought a federal order preventing counters from using discretion in determining voter intent on individual ballots.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Election officials planned to begin poring over more than 92,500 write-in ballots in the Alaska Senate race on Wednesday, in spite of a federal lawsuit that's challenging the way the count was to be conducted.

Republican nominee Joe Miller sued Tuesday to prevent the state from using discretion in determining voter intent on write-in ballots. But Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, the Republican overseer of Alaska elections, said the count would go forward on Wednesday as planned.

Miller's GOP rival, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, mounted a write-in campaign after losing their party's primary to him in August.

Election law calls for write-in ballots to have the oval filled in and either the candidate's last name or the name as it appears on a declaration of candidacy written on the ballot. But election officials, pointing to prior case law, have said they plan to use their judgment when it comes to misspellings or variations of Murkowski's name.

Miller's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, said the campaign maintains that every valid, lawful vote should be counted. But he said the state needs to follow its election laws, and he's seeking a hearing in federal court on the matter on Wednesday.

Murkowski's campaign manager, Kevin Sweeney, said it appeared Miller's camp "will do everything they can to stop Alaska votes from being counted."

On Tuesday, both campaigns expressed confidence in the results from more than 27,000 absentee and early-cast ballots, which showed Miller gaining ground but still lagging write-in votes by 11,333 votes.

Murkowski's campaign believes most of those votes are for her, and she reiterated Tuesday her confidence in winning. But it's not yet clear how many of the ballots for Murkowski were properly cast.

Each campaign is allowed to have observers in the room as ballots are scrutinized. Political parties are allowed observers, too, and the Department of Justice is expected to oversee things at the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives.

Murkowski courted the rural and Alaska Native vote as she sought to build a broad-base of support for her outsider run.

Becky Bohrer

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2010 Elections Joe Miller