Anchorage, Alaska Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is acting as though she already has pulled off an improbable victory after her write-in candidacy, enthusiastically thanking supporters and telling them they’ve made history.
She may have won. Or she may be overly optimistic.
The race is far from over.
Murkowski’s fate rests in the reading of at least 83,000 write-in ballots. As of Thursday, initial returns showed write-in ballots held a 13,439-vote edge over GOP nominee Joe Miller, but it’s not clear how many of those are for Murkowski — or how many of the ballots have been cast properly.
And there remain at least 37,800 absentee, early and questioned ballots that have yet to be dealt with.
She and Miller both are preparing for a legal fight, raising money and assembling teams. Murkowski’s includes Ben Ginsberg, who helped George W. Bush during the 2000 recount in Florida. Miller is ceding nothing, with his campaign declaring the race a “CLIFFHANGER” and asking for financial help to “fight for conservative votes.”
One major issue that could ultimately send the race to court: voter intent.
The law calls for write-in votes to have the ballot oval filled in and the candidate’s full name or last name next to it. That section states that the rules are mandatory and there are “no exceptions to them.”
Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees elections, told The Associated Press this week that ballot counters would debate over ballots on which there are spelling errors before determining whether they should count.
But Miller attorney Thomas Van Flein suggested that no such debate was needed, since there are clear standards for counting write-ins. While he stopped short of saying the campaign would sue over misspelled ballots counted toward Murkowski’s total, he said the recourse it has is going to court.
“We intend to have the state of Alaska follow the law,” he said Thursday. Counting ballots, he said, is “an objective test, not a subjective test.”
Campbell’s spokeswoman and the Division of Elections director pointed to case law when asked about the use of discretion in determining voter intent.
While there’ve been statewide write-in efforts in Alaska before, the rules have changed, making it difficult to accurately gauge what Murkowski calls “slippage,” write-ins she’ll lose because they were improperly cast. Still, she figures she’ll lose only a “smaller” amount of those ballots.
Since Election Night, she has sounded supremely confident as she touts the historic campaign she and her supporters waged. The last U.S. Senate candidate to win a write-in bid did so more than a half-century ago.
“The story of my write-in campaign will be told and retold; it will change the definition of American politics ... (a)nd it re-enforces what we all knew: in Alaska, anything is possible when you have a small group of people who are determined to change the world,” she said in an e-mail to supporters.
In what could be an unlikely comeback, Murkowski said her campaign did everything it could to avoid a repeat of the primary that she lost in August to Miller, touting her strengths while aggressively responding to charges against her record.
The campaign even handed out rubbery blue wristbands that voters could discreetly bring with them into polling booths, depicting the process, and urged voters to write her name on their hands, if they needed, in order to get it right.