The United States Senate race in Alaska was unusual from the start, and determining its results has taken longer than any other contest in this year’s midterm elections. But at long last the election battle between Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and challenger Joe Miller appears to be over.
If so, it’s a blow to the tea party movement and to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who not only backed Miller in her home state but also has had a long-time political grudge with Murkowski.
Incumbent Murkowski had lost the Republican Senate primary to Miller, but fought back as a write-in candidate – hoping to become the first one to successfully do so since Strom Thurmond in 1954. Still, getting voters to spell her name correctly was a challenge, and many write-in ballots had it off by a few letters.
But, Judge Carey in essence sided with those arguing that ballots where voter intent was clearly and reasonably indicated should be counted.
“If exact spellings were intended by the legislature, even with respect to the most difficult names, the legislature could have and would have said so,” he wrote. “There are many reasons why [misspellings] might happen, whether they involve a village elder who had grown up speaking his or her Native dialect, a recently naturalized citizen, a person with any one of a number of disabilities, or someone who just mistakenly left off a letter in his or her chosen candidate’s name.”
The vote count put Murkowski ahead by more 10,000 votes – still more than 2,000 if some 8,000 ballots Miller had challenged were tossed out.
Miller also alleged misconduct by state voting officials, but here too the judge sided with Murkowski.
“Nowhere does Miller provide facts showing a genuine issue of fraud or election official misfeasance,” Carey wrote. “Instead, the majority of the problematic statements included in the affidavits are inadmissible hearsay, speculation, and occasional complaints of sarcasm expressed by [elections] workers. Nothing rises to the level showing genuine material facts of fraud.”
Miller has until this coming Tuesday to appeal Carey’s ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court. Meanwhile, a federal court has blocked certification of the election results until the state court case is settled.
State officials are urging quick resolution – in time for Murkowski to be certified as the winner before the US Senate reconvenes Jan. 5. If not, officials warn, she might lose her seniority in the Senate. Murkowski is the senior Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee – a particularly important post for Alaska.
The state GOP has long since urged Miller to concede.
“This was a free and fair election,” Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich said last month. “It is now time to look forward. We call on Joe Miller to respect the will of the voters and end his campaign in a dignified manner. We have every expectation that Joe will do the right thing.”