JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign on Thursday accused observers for rival Joe Miller of making petty challenges in the counting of voters' write-in ballots in an attempt to tilt the Alaska Senate race in their favor.
Miller's campaign disputed the charge, saying observers are simply challenging votes that don't meet the strict letter of the law — including those with minor misspellings of Murkowski's name or those with legibility or penmanship issues.
Shortly after the second day of write-in ballot counting began in the race, a Miller observer challenged a vote for Murkowski that appeared to have her name spelled and printed correctly, though the "L'' in "Lisa" was in cursive handwriting.
"They're just absolutely trying to boost their numbers," Murkowski spokesman John Tracy said.
There's a lot at stake: Miller has filed a federal lawsuit, seeking to bar the state from counting ballots that do not meet the standards set out in law; briefings on the issue are set for next week.
The 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 their declaration of candidacy scrawled in — in this case, either "Murkowski" or "Lisa Murkowski."
But the state is using discretion to discern voter intent, pointing to prior case law as their basis in doing so. State Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai, the final arbiter of what's in or out during the counting process, said if the name is phonetic to Murkowski or there are minor misspellings, she's counting it for Murkowski. It's an effort aimed at not disenfranchising any voters.
The tabulation of about 19,200 initial write-ins showed Murkowski winning 89 percent of that vote undisputedly, meaning those ballots were properly cast for her with the oval filled in and her name written correctly. Nearly 10 percent was challenged, though Fenumiai counted the majority of those to Murkowski's tally.
That percentage is key: if a judge agrees that they don't meet the legal standard of votes for Murkowski, and tosses them aside, Miller's camp says it would make the race very tight, possibly forcing a recount or, at the very least, putting Miller in tight contention.
More than 92,900 write-in ballots were cast in the race, with thousands of absentee and questioned ballots still coming in or yet to be addressed. Write-ins led Miller by a margin of 10,799 as of Wednesday night.
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