Politics & Government

In Alaska's U.S. Senate race, write-ins are favoring Murkowski


Election returns on Tuesday showed Lisa Murkowski with a good chance to become only the second candidate to run a successful write-in campaign for the U.S. Senate in the nation's history. But Joe Miller wasn't giving up, and his campaign was getting ready for a possible court fight.

With more than 80 percent of precincts reporting, about 40 percent of the voters had filled in the write-in oval on their ballot. Most of those likely wrote in incumbent Sen. Murkowski, who spent over $1 million telling voters to "fill it in, write in" after she lost to Miller in the Aug. 24 Republican primary.

But it won't be clear for weeks at least how many of the voters wrote in Murkowski's name, and how many did it properly enough to be counted. Republican nominee Miller, who ran on a tea party platform with the backing of former Gov. Sarah Palin, was pulling in 35 percent of the vote. Miller was followed by Democratic nominee Scott McAdams, who had about 24 percent of the vote.

No one has been elected to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond in 1954. That's also the last time the Giants, known as the New York Giants in those days, won the World Series. The now-San Francisco Giants took the title Monday night. But it's going to be a long wait to see if Murkowski was victorious as well.

The Division of Elections has sent out more than 31,200 absentee ballots. The first batch of those, as well as questioned ballots, will be counted Nov. 9. Some absentee ballots mailed back from overseas won't be counted until Nov. 17.

Alaska's computerized voting system shows how many voters filled in the oval for a write-in candidate but not the actual name the voter wrote in. The write-in ballots are only opened to look at the name if there are more of them than votes for the leading candidate, or if the number of write-in ballots is within .5 percent of the frontrunner.

That count would begin Nov. 18 and be expected to last three days. The campaigns have been getting ready for the court challenges over "voter intent" that would be expected to follow. Minor misspellings are probably OK but simply writing "Lisa M,"; for example, could be a problem.

If Murkowski manages to win as a write-in, political operatives and academics will be studying it for years. She distributed rubber bracelets with her name on it, t-shirts, even temporary tattoos. Murkowski, a well-known incumbent with a lot of money running in a small state, was also in a good position to try to pull it off.

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