Alaska's Write-In Ballot Count In Progress

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The hand count of write-in ballots got under way in the Alaska Senate race Wednesday. The GOP nominee is challenging a raft of write-in ballots that could give the election to incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who ran as an independent.


The Senate race in Alaska has come down to spelling. As you may recall, incumbent Lisa Murkowski ran as a write-in after the losing the Republican primary to a Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller. Write-in won the most votes, and election officials have begun examining those write-in ballots to see who they're really cast for. Miller, the Republican nominee, asked a federal judge in Anchorage to stop the vote count. He objects to officials allowing for minor misspellings of Murkowski's name. The judge refused.

NPR's Martin Kaste has this update from Juno.

MARTIN KASTE: Right now all anyone can say for sure about this race is that write-in is winning. That is, more than 92,000 voters wrote in a candidate for U.S. Senate. That's about 11,000 more than voted for the Republican nominee, Joe Miller. But who gets those write-in votes?

Unidentified Woman: Murkowski.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Man: Murkowski.

KASTE: That's what they're trying to figure out here in Juno, where election workers are hand-sorting the write-in ballots.

Unidentified Woman: Murkowski.

KASTE: And observers from both campaigns are inspecting each one.

Unidentified Woman: Murkowski.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman: Challenge counted.

KASTE: Miller's observers are challenging any Murkowski vote that's misspelled. Observer Gary Creep(ph) says the spellings are all over the map.

Mr. GARY CREEP: Like Mckowski(ph), M-C, Macathkow(ph), no W, you know, Y's on the end.

KASTE: But the Miller campaign is also challenging minor problems. For instance, cursive O's that might be A's.

Miller spokesman Randy Desoto says an important principle is at stake.

Mr. RANDY DESOTO (Spokesman for Joe Miller): We're saying there needs to be a standard that's applied across the board and it shouldn't just be one person's gut level as to which way this - the person intended to vote. That's not law, that's rule by a person; that's not the rule of law.

KASTE: The Miller campaign asked a federal judge to stop the count and force the state to apply a strict spelling standard. But yesterday federal Judge Ralph Beistline refused to do so. He said there's no reason to stop the count because the state is separating the challenged votes even as it counts them. Judge Beistline says that means he can still review Miller's arguments about spelling next week.

Murkowski spokesman John Tracy shrugs off Miller's legal challenge.

Mr. JOHN TRACY (Spokesman for Senator Lisa Murkowski): That's their prerogative. We have always believed that voter intent is important. We believe that the state has made it very clear that if the intent of the voter can be determined, that that vote will be counted. We believe that that is right and proper and we believe that that will be the final decision at the end of the day.

KASTE: But so far, close to 90 percent of the Murkowski write-in ballots have not contained irregularities and she may yet be able to win this even without having to count on the votes of her more orthographically challenged supporters.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Juno.

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