Senate candidate Joe Miller can stop the state of Alaska from certifying the results of a disputed election in which he’s behind if he files a lawsuit against the state by Monday, a federal judge has ruled.
Miller must now file suit in state court to pursue his claim that misspellings of opponent Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s name on write-in ballots invalidated some of her votes.
Miller is trailing Murkowski in the race. While the Associated Press has declared Murkowski the winner with a more than 10,000 vote lead, there has still been no official declaration of a winner in a three-way race in which more than 250,000 votes were cast.
On Friday, a final vote count at the Division of Elections office in Juneau trimmed 72 votes from Murkowski's lead, which now stands at 10,328.
Miller is a tea-party favorite who has received strong backing from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a political foe of Murkowski’s. He has tried to get a federal judge to change the way the state counts write-in votes. But the judge has ruled that’s a matter for state courts, not federal.
Miller’s camp wants any vote to be tossed out if it varies in any way from a standard spelling or format, including being written "Murkowski, Lisa," or if it has the word "Republican" written after it, is misspelled in any way or is written below instead of above the line, according to the Juneau Empire
newspaper. His team has challenged 8,159 of the ballots counted for Murkowski, many after they showed one of those characteristics.
But that number only partially erodes Murkowski’s lead.
"Even if every one of the challenges by the observers of Joe Miller were discarded, she still holds a margin of victory of more than 2,000 votes," Kevin Sweeney, Murkowski's campaign manager, told the Empire.
Miller has not revealed how he plans to challenge other ballots.
"Given the close vote count in the race for U.S. Senate (excluding ballots containing misspellings) I presently intend to ask for a recount," Miller said in an affidavit filed in federal court last week.
In his previous complaint, Miller has maintained that Alaska state law is strict and that no misspellings are allowed.
"Rather than implementing the clear, specific and uniform standards for counting write-in votes set forth in Alaska [law], defendants and their counting boards apparently will be attempting to divine for themselves the 'intent of the voter' based on vague, amorphous, subjective — and unspecified — criteria," the complaint argues.
"This quixotic quest will result in the arbitrary and disparate treatment of write-in ballots in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution," the complaint continued.
The Los Angeles Times concluded that Miller's complaint is accurate, citing "several legal scholars" who said that "Alaska's statute is one of the most exacting in the country."
"The statute does call for what we would call strict compliance. It says it's mandatory, and there are no exceptions," said Edward Foley, director of the election law program at Ohio State University law school, told the Times.
But Foley, along with other scholars, believe that Alaska courts will accept that some slight variations are permitted under the statute.
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