Write-in Count Starts to Settle Senate Race

The Alaska Senate race has officially turned into a fiasco. The all-important count of write-in votes began today in Juneau and observers for Joe Miller are challenging scores of votes for Lisa Murkowski even in some cases where the voter correctly filled in the oval and spelled her name.

With 19-percent of the precincts counted, a pattern has developed which bodes well for Murkowski and lawyers who bill by the hour. 89-percent of the write in votes were for Murkowski where her name was spelled correctly and the vote was not challenged. 8-percent of the votes were either spelled correctly for Murkowski, had a minor spelling error or did not have clear enough handwriting for the Miller observer and were challenged. The challenge was overruled by the elections director, Gail Fenumiai and counted as a Murkowski vote. Only 1-percent of the challenged votes were not counted and less than 1-percent of the votes were for write-in candidates other than Murkowski.

If the pattern holds, Murkowski will end up with several thousand more votes than Miller and be certified as the winner. Write-in started the day ahead of Miller by more than 11,000 votes, or 5-percent of the total votes cast.

Ah, but not so fast. The Miller campaign is still holding out hope that they’ll win their legal challenge to the Election Department’s counting process which instructs counters to try and determine voter intent where possible. In other words, where there is a minor misspelling, but it’s obvious the voter intended to vote for Murkowski the vote should count. Miller says that’s in contradiction to state law and violates his constitutional rights. He believes election workers should have no discretion. Misspelled names should be tossed.

The law, which was passed by the Alaska state legislature in 2000, says for write-in votes to count the name must be written “as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy, of the candidate or the last name of the candidate is written in the space provided.”

Miller observers started out challenging every vote in which Murkowski’s name was misspelled, even if it was off by one letter. The most common misspelling of her name has been “M-E-R-K-O-W-S-K-I. But later in the afternoon, I started to notice challenges even on votes where the spelling was correct. This followed the loss in federal court in Anchorage. Miller had filed suit seeking an injunction to stop the counters from interpreting voter intent. Judge Ralph Beistline denied the injunction saying since the challenged ballots were being segregated, the count can continue and the merits of the complaint can be heard next week.

The problem for the Miller campaign is that by then the vote count will be done and in all likelihood Murkowski will have a  huge lead. There will be pressure for Miller to concede rather than drag out the process in court.

Dan Springer joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in August 2001 as a Seattle-based correspondent.