JUNEAU, Alaska — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign on Thursday accused observers for rival Joe Miller of challenging properly cast write-in ballots in an effort to drag out the heated Alaska Senate race and "delay the inevitable."
Shortly after the second day of write-in ballot counting began, 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.
At another table later, at least 10 ballots in which Murkowski's name appeared readable were challenged, including one in which the vote read: "Lisa Murkowski Republican."
Miller's campaign said 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.
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"The Murkowski campaign can say whatever it wants," Chip Gerhardt, a Miller observer and attorney sent to the state by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "What's going on here, our focus is on following the law."
Murkowski spokesman John Tracy sees it this way: "What this says to us is, they're simply trying to delay the inevitable."
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 written 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 45,132 initial write-ins, representing about 45 percent of precincts, showed Murkowski with 89.8 percent of the votes undisputedly, meaning those ballots were properly cast for her with the oval filled in and her name written correctly. Another 9.5 percent was challenged, though Fenumiai counted the majority of those to Murkowski's tally.
Miller has filed a federal lawsuit, seeking to bar the state from counting ballots that do not meet the standards set out in law.