Miller says absentee votes may turn tide as count continues

SENATE: Wednesday is the deadline to receive military and overseas ballots.

November 13, 2010 

JUNEAU -- GOP nominee Joe Miller won't spend a lot of time, energy and effort fighting over ballots in Alaska's still-undecided U.S. Senate race if the math doesn't add up in his favor, he said Saturday.

But Miller said he won't make any announcements until after absentee ballots come in next week from military voters, a constituency that the Army veteran believes could go heavily for him.

"I think to call the race, to say that their vote doesn't matter, to forget about counting their votes, I think that's an inappropriate approach," he said Saturday.

The state has so far recorded more than 98,500 write-in ballots cast. Of those, more than 15,000 remain to be counted.

The deadline to receive absentee ballots from overseas and military addresses is Wednesday.

Miller hopes to pull out another upset of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who ran as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Miller in August.

Saturday marked the fourth day of a write-in ballot hand count that could stretch well into next week, with thousands of absentee and questioned ballots yet to be combed through. The count Saturday showed Murkowski with 74,449 votes, or 89.6 percent of the write-in vote undisputedly -- a trend that has largely held throughout the process. Another 7.9 percent was credited to her tally over challenges by Miller observers, generally for things like misspellings of her name or penmanship.

Murkowski's campaign believes it needs to win at least 90 percent of the unchallenged vote to declare victory.

Miller's vote total, as of Friday night, was 87,517.

Miller, who visited the cavernous counting center on Juneau's outskirts, said he has not calculated what percentage of the vote would need to be challenged successfully for the race to be tight enough to possibly force a recount or make the prospect of a legal battle over ballots reality.

Numbers had nothing to do with the ballots being challenged by his observers; it was about ensuring a fair count and holding the state to the letter of the law, he said.

Election law calls for write-in ballots to have the oval filled in and for the candidate's last name or the name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy to be written -- in this case, "Murkowski" or "Lisa Murkowski."

However, the state has been using discretion in determining voter intent, pointing to prior case law as the basis for this. It's a practice Murkowski's campaign has supported, and one that's prompted Miller to file a federal lawsuit. Briefings in the matter are due this week.

Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said the court fight will go forward "if the contested vote makes the difference."

Miller's campaign also has filed a state lawsuit seeking access to lists of registered voters from more 30 precincts to count and inspect signatures "to ensure there was no possible fraud, mistake, irregularity or inconsistency."

The campaign has set up a voter fraud hot line that received 300 "legitimate" calls within the first 24 hours, said Floyd Brown, the strategist behind the infamous "Willie Horton" ad during the 1988 presidential campaign who's been identified by Miller's camp as an adviser.

Brown didn't define "legitimate." Affidavits raising concerns, shared by the campaign, have generally come from people who've worked for or supported Miller.

Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, a Republican who oversees Alaska elections, said neither his office nor the attorney general's had received complaints about voter fraud or intimidation. "If there really are valid concerns, you would think they would call the authorities," he told The Associated Press on Saturday, adding that he had "complete faith in the integrity of the voting process."

A number of ballots with similar-looking writing were segregated Saturday, said Matt Johnson, a Miller observer. He said it may have been a case where voters needed and received assistance filling out their ballots -- and nothing to be concerned about -- but it merits a closer look nonetheless. w

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