JUNEAU -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski retained 89 percent of the undisputed write-in votes in Alaska's still-undecided Senate race, as the fifth day of the ballot hand count ended.
Her campaign hoped she'd be able to overtake rival Joe Miller in the overall ballot count as early as Sunday, but counters got through fewer than 5,000 write-in ballots -- far fewer than they'd been averaging since the count began Wednesday.
Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign after losing the GOP primary to Miller. On Sunday, she trailed Miller by 8,820 votes, according to her undisputed tally.
More than 98,500 write-in ballots were cast, with election officials set to count the last big batch of absentee ballots, an estimated 8,600 to 8,800, this week; a few hundred outstanding ballots from overseas and military addresses are expected by Wednesday's deadline for those.
As of Sunday, Miller had 87,517 votes, Murkowski had 78,697 that were undisputed.
The state was counting another 7,059 votes, or 8 percent of the current write-in tally, for Murkowski but those were being challenged by Miller observers, generally for things like misspellings, extra words or penmanship issues.
That percentage is key -- and what Miller's campaign is closely watching as the last absentee ballots come in. If that contested figure will appear to make the difference between a Miller win or loss -- or, at least, a super-tight race -- the campaign intends to press on with its fight, spokesman Randy DeSoto said.
Miller's campaign has filed a federal lawsuit, seeking to hold the state to the letter of the election law. The law calls for write-in ballots to have the oval filled in and for the last name of the candidate or the name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy to be written. The state has been using discretion in determining voter intent, allowing for misspellings of Murkowski's name to be counted toward her tally, citing prior case law as their basis for doing this.
If Miller maintains his challenge, it would be up to a judge to decide whether those disputed ballots are in or out. Murkowski's campaign has believed it would need at least 90 percent of the unchallenged vote to declare victory.
The write-in hand count is expected to run at least through Wednesday.