Miller Makes Small Gains From Absentee Votes

Miller Makes Small Gains From Absentee Votes

By Scott Conroy - November 10, 2010

The majority of about 30,500 absentee ballots were counted on Tuesday in the still undecided Alaska Senate race between Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller, who defeated Murkowski in the August GOP primary. Miller still appears to be trailing Murkowski, who ran in the general election as a write-in candidate, but he has made some gains from the absentee ballots.

After Election Day, the total number of write-in votes held a 41 percent to 34 percent lead over Miller -- an advantage of 13,439 votes. But after Alaska Division of Elections officials counted more than 22,000 of the absentee votes by late Tuesday, Miller had cut his deficit to 11,557 -- a gain of 1,882 votes.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, election officials had not yet counted absentee ballots in rural districts, where Murkowski generally dominated, as well as one district in the Mat-Su Valley where Miller ran strongly ahead of Murkowski.

Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney wrote in an emailed statement that the gains for Miller were not unexpected.

"So far, the margin of the write-in total has declined slightly, but this is what we projected," Sweeney said. "We remain confident that Senator Murkowski will be
heading into the write-in vote tally process tomorrow with a sufficient margin for victory."

On Wednesday, the main event was set to begin as officials were scheduled to start reviewing the more than 91,000 write-in ballots that have been tallied by voting machines, as representatives from the Murkowski and Miller camps observed the process that could take weeks.

The Associated Press reported that Miller filed suit in federal court on Tuesday to keep state officials from using their own discretion in deciding whether to validate write-in ballots, regardless of misspellings or variations in Murkowski's name.

Miller's suit argues that officials should have to abide strictly to Alaska election law, which does not provide much leeway to interpret voter intent.

"Alaska's statute on write-in candidates is clear. The name that is written in on the ballot must match the name of the write-in candidate registered with the Division of Elections," Miller wrote in an email to supporters on Tuesday. "Seeing some of the sudden decisions and arbitrary announcements from the Division of Elections, we know that we face an uphill battle."

Miller also reminded supporters that they could donate to his newly created legal defense fund, even if they had contributed the limit to his campaign.

Murkowski campaign officials have expressed confidence that election officials abide by case law they have pointed to in past statements and would not disenfranchise voters who intended to cast their ballots for Murkowski but may not have spelled her name correctly.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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