JUNEAU — The Division of Elections has finished reviewing the write-in ballots for nearly three-quarters of the precincts, and the results show Lisa Murkowski on track to be the first write-in candidate elected to the U.S. Senate since 1954.
Ben Ginsberg, an election law expert who was flown to Alaska by Murkowski to advise on the count, said he was heading back home on Friday night.
"This is in good hands, and the outcome looks pretty obvious," said Ginsberg, a top lawyer for George W. Bush in the contentious 2000 Florida recount.
But Joe Miller's campaign isn't ready to give up. Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said he could still envision the numbers swinging Miller's way in the end.
"I think we're still in the ballpark," DeSoto said.
The count stands at 98,565 write-ins and 87,517 votes for Miller after Friday's tally of absentee and questioned votes. That tally slightly widened the margin of write-ins over Miller to 11,048 votes.
Nearly 98 percent of those write-ins are being counted for Murkowski so far. More than 90 percent of Murkowski's write-in votes are not being challenged.
The Miller campaign has successfully challenged just 1.5 percent of the 69,249 write-in ballots that have been reviewed. The ballots unsuccessfully challenged by Miller are being segregated in boxes, and the courts could have the final say.
Miller has filed a lawsuit asking federal courts to force the state to throw out ballots that misspell Murkowski's name. He argues state law doesn't allow misspellings. But even if Miller's lawsuit succeeds, Murkowski could still have enough votes to win.
The Division of Elections has finished going through the write-ins for nearly 72 percent of the precincts in Alaska. That doesn't count the absentee and early vote write-in ballots, which will be reviewed this weekend and into next week.
Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said he likes the results of the count but doesn't plan on declaring victory until at least next week. "I think it's fair to Alaskan voters for every vote to be counted before one side claims victory," Sweeney said.
All absentee ballots had to be postmarked by Election Day but have until Nov. 17 to arrive from overseas.
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