Number of untallied ballots rises in close Alaska Senate race

Anchorage Daily NewsAugust 29, 2010 

ANCHORAGE — There were more allegations by the Joe Miller campaign of ballot-counting monkey business on Saturday as absentee ballots continue to pour into the Alaska Division of Elections. State elections officials now say there are 23,472 ballots to process, with more coming, and the first count set for Tuesday.

Miller currently leads Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski by 1,668 votes in the Republican primary.

Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto said in an e-mail Saturday that there are many calls going out to Alaskans who voted absentee ballots, asking them who they voted for in the primary.

DeSoto said his basis for making that assertion is that a woman contacted the Miller campaign about getting a call, that such a call was brought up in the comment section of a story on the Anchorage Daily News website, and that several people had called an Anchorage talk radio show to say they've received such calls.

"I believe, and time will prove it, (the calls) are being done for nefarious purposes," DeSoto said in the e-mail. "It is definitely not being done by the Joe Miller campaign. It is being done, I believe, by the National Republican Senatorial Committee or someone they contracted with as the beginning of a legal battle to throw out ballots."

It is public information who requests absentee ballots. Both the Murkowski campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Campaign on Saturday denied making calls to absentee voters.

"Bottom line, we're not making phone calls to anyone, and we have told both campaigns that whomever is chosen by the voters of Alaska to be their nominee, that candidate will have our full support," said NRSC Communications Director Brian Walsh.

Walsh said he wasn't aware of anyone else making such calls. He said the single NRSC lawyer sent to Alaska to assist Murkowski with the ballot count, Sean Cairncross, returned to Washington, D.C., on Saturday after 72 hours in the state. "This has been much ado about nothing," he said.

Murkowski campaign manager John Bitney said Saturday he's heard that calls are being made to people who voted absentee but doesn't know anything more. "We're not doing it, we are not doing it," Bitney said. "I don't know who is doing it."

The Miller campaign did not have evidence on Saturday that it was the NRSC or the Murkowski campaign making calls. Miller spokesman DeSoto said he was working on getting details, including coming up with contact information for absentee voters who received calls asking how they voted.

"I guess this has been forwarded on to some people on our team and Dan Fagan has looked at it and said, 'Yeah, this does not sound right.'... We have to find the truth of the matter; it's something that's been brought to our attention," he said.

Several people called the Dan Fagan talk radio show in Anchorage on Friday to say they voted absentee and have received calls asking who they voted for. One man, who was identified as Brian, said the caller identified themselves as being from the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Another, Arnie, could not recall the full name but said that it included the words "Republican National." Another, Ryan, said the caller identified themselves as from the "something information group." Fagan, who asserted on his show he had sources confirming this was being done as an effort to challenge absentee ballots for Miller, on Saturday evening did not immediately return a cell message and an e-mail.

The Alaska Division of Elections is currently validating the absentee and question ballots, which are in sealed envelopes with information about the voter in the front. Elections officials compare the information on the envelope to that in the state voter system to determine if the person was eligible to cast the ballot. Envelopes for absentee ballots are also reviewed to make sure the voter requested a ballot, that a witness signed it, and that it was postmarked by last Tuesday, the primary election day.

Both campaigns have observers watching the process who can raise issues to elections officials about whether the ballot should be disqualified. The Miller campaign said information on which absentee voters cast their ballots for Miller might be used in an attempt to disqualify those votes. Murkowski campaign manager Bitney questioned how realistic it would be to pull that off.

The NRSC, while it helps Republican challengers in some races, is set up to protect the seats of Republican incumbents.

Miller had earlier accused the NRSC of trying to manipulate the outcome of the race by sending lawyer Cairncross to Alaska. "You have to be concerned anytime somebody lawyers up and tries to pull an Al Franken, if you will," Miller said on Friday, referring to the 2008 ballot recount ballot between then-Sen. Norm Coleman and the Democrat who beat him, Franken. "We are very aware that there may be some attempt here to skew the results. I hope that is not the case."

Murkowski had described that statement as "paranoid." Murkowski had suggested Miller had first "lawyered" up by hiring Sarah Palin's attorney, Tom Van Flein of Anchorage, to review the process.

Miller campaign spokesman DeSoto said NRSC is apparently now sending Mike Roman, who worked on the 2008 ballot recount for then-Sen. Coleman, to Alaska to work for Murkowski. Murkowski campaign manager Bitney said Roman is a private elections consultant who doesn't work for the NRSC, and he is coming to Alaska at Bitney's request. Roman is founder of Election Journal, which describes itself as an "online community dedicated to raising public awareness of vote fraud and election irregularities." The Election Journal site calls Roman a veteran political consultant and private investigator.

THREE MORE COUNTS COMING

The Division of Elections said Saturday that it had 23,472 ballots to process so far. Most are expected to be cast for the Republican primary race between Miller and Murkowski, but a portion will be for the Democratic primary instead.

The tally includes 13,740 absentee votes, out of a reported 16,000 absentee ballots that had been requested. There are another 9,069 questioned ballots, some of which will be disqualified. Elections officials said there are also 663 early votes that still need to be counted.

The Division of Elections said it will determine Monday how many of the votes will be tallied in Tuesday's initial count.

Subsequent counts are scheduled for Sept. 3 and Sept. 8.

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