JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — No clear winner emerged Monday after the addition of the last big batch of absentee ballots in Alaska's still-undecided Senate race between Sen. Lisa Murkowski and GOP nominee Joe Miller.
More than 8,700 ballots were added, bringing the total number of write-in ballots cast for numerous candidates to 102,028. Miller had 90,448 votes.
Murkowski is seeking to make history and win redemption through the write-in campaign she mounted after losing her party primary to Miller. No U.S. Senate candidate has won a write-in bid since 1954.
Murkowski has consistently been getting about 89 percent of the write-in vote as ballots are counted. If the trend holds, she could pull ahead of Miller by fewer than 400 votes.
As many as 600 more ballots from overseas and military addresses could be submitted by a Wednesday deadline. The state plans to count those ballots Friday.
The number of contested ballots is critical to whether one candidate will be able to declare victory or the race heads to court.
Miller has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the state follow election law that calls for write-in ballots to have the oval filled in and the last name of the candidate or the name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy. In the Senate race, it would be Murkowski or Lisa Murkowski.
The state has been using discretion in determining voter intent, allowing minor misspellings and pointing to prior case law as the basis for the move.
Miller has said he won't press on if the math doesn't work in his favor. But he also has said he believes the letter of the law should be met and that he's willing to fight on if the contested votes would make the difference between his winning or losing.
Murkowski's camp claims he is seeking to disenfranchise thousands of voters who made an effort to write in her name but had trouble doing so.
About 8 percent of the write-in votes the state has counted toward Murkowski's tally have been challenged by Miller observers, for things such as misspellings, legibility issues, extra words or oddly filled-in ovals. That percentage represents 7,549 votes.
Some of those ballots included mangled or hard-to-read lettering but also entries like "Murkowski, Lisa," and "Lisa Murkowski Republican."
Another 2 percent has been challenged and not counted by the state. Many of these ballots had Murkowski's name written in, but the oval wasn't filled in. Murkowski observers objected to the decision.
Murkowski's camp believes it needs at least 90 percent of the undisputed vote for her to declare victory.
Just as Miller believes he can make a case in court for getting contested ballots tossed, Murkowski's campaign believes it can persuade a judge that a voter who wrote in Murkowski's name — but didn't fill in the oval — meant to vote for her and should have their ballot counted.
"The question is whether Joe Miller wants to delay the inevitable and go through a lengthy court process," Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said. "We just hope he is reasonable."
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