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More than 20,000 primary election ballots left untallied

Sean CockerhamMcClatchy-Tribune News Service
Sen. Lisa Murkowski vows to keep fighting until results are final at a press conference at her Anchorage campaign headquarters Wednesday, August 25, 2010, in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Republican Alaska gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller supporter John Slone at the end of a long evening at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Rod Perry talks with republican Alaska Lt. gubernatorial candidate Eddie Burke at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with reporters at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller supporters check on election results at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller cut the ceremonial first piece of cake with the help of Miller assistant Adele Morgan at the Snow Goose restaurant before walking over to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Republican Alaska gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker at Election Central in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller his wife Kathleen and two of their children Jake and Katy Miller at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with a reporter at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Republican US Senate candidate Joe Miller at the Snow Goose Restaurant in downtown Anchorage on primary election night.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller signs a campaign sign for supporter 10 year old Dillon Chilstrom as his younger 4 year old Evan Chilstrom looks on at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller cut the ceremonial first piece of cake with the help of Miller assistant Adele Morgan at the Snow Goose restaurant before walking over to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller supporter 4 year old Evan Chilstrom holds up a sign at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with a reporter at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage, AK on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and his daughter Katy Miller look towards the election results screen at the Snow Goose restaurant in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and supporters walk from the Snow Goose to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller has his photo made with his nephew Andrew Zingone at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks to his supporters at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller supporter Brian Swanson at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Supporters view the results at election central in the Egan Center Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Joe Miller supporters take a break at election central in the Egan Center Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010, after a long day campaigning and waving signs for the U.S. Senate candidate.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller talks with a reporter at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is welcomed by supporters as she arrives at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller supporter Stuart Barnes at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and his wife Kathleen Miller at the Snow Goose to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller, at right, checks his iPhone for results at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage as Eddie Zingone and press secretary Randy DeSoto look on. Photographed on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate candidate Joe Miller supporters at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Sean Parnell waves to motorists heading south along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Governor candidate Diane Benson and supporters in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Kathleen Miller and her husband US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller and supporters walk from the Snow Goose to the Egan Center Election Central in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Supporter Mike Wery watches for election returns Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sharon Blackbird, right, receives her voting sticker after casting a ballot wtih Linda Hobert at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Precinct worker Linda Hobert, left, assists Cynthia Aiken with her ballot at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Sean Parnell and his wife Sandy at election central in the Egan Center Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Jay Ramras is still hopefull as he arrives at the Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Rose Abraham-Nelson, right, shows daughter Laurel Nelson, 12, the voting process Tuesday August 24, 2010 at East Anchorage United Methodist Church. Laurel is a home schooled seventh grader.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Opponents of ballot measure 2 greet vehicles driving Benson Boulevard at the Seward Highway Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Ralph Samuels solicits votes along Minnesota Drive at Benson Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in west Anchorage.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Supporters watch election returns on a big screen television at Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Gubernatorial candidate Ethan Berkowitz campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sylvia Kaderman, right, receives her voting sticker from Art Wolff after casting her ballot Tuesday August 24, 2010 at East Anchorage United Methodist Church.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Audra Dressler solicits votes for Bill Walker from the median of the Seward Highway at Benson Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Roy Burkhart and his wife June wait for election returns at Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Bernadette Wilson, campaign manager for Yes on 2, attaches balloons to their signs to help separate them from candidate signs along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
U.S. House candidate Sheldon Fisher campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
The Hollis French and Lisa Murkowski campaigns share a corner along the Seward Highway at Benson Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski is welcomed by supporters as she arrives at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks with supporter Marty Weeks at her campaign headquarters in Anchorage after the polls closed Tuesday evening, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Sign wavers swarm corners and the median in and around the Seward Highway at Northern Lights Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A parked SUV advertises support for Mead Treadwell along the Seward Highway Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski supporters campaign from a convertible driven south on Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
US Senate republican candidate Joe Miller, at right, talks with supporters including Greg Pugh of Wasilla, at the Snow Goose in downtown Anchorage on Tuesday August 24, 2010.
BOB HALLINEN / Anchorage Daily News
Rose Abraham-Nelson, left, walks daughter Laurel Nelson, 12, through the voting process as she casts her ballot Tuesday August 24, 2010 at East Anchorage United Methodist Church. Laurel is a home schooled seventh grader.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Kaitlyn Torino, 3, shares voting booth space with aunt Vickie Castro at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A sign beckons voters out of the warm sunshine at First Presbyterian Church Tuesday August 24, 2010 downtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Gov. Sean Parnell greets traffic along the Seward Highway Tuesday August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Joe Miller supporters campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, blue shirt, campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Mead Treadwell campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Mead Treadwell campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Supporters for gubernatorial candidate Hollis French wave campaign signs from the top of a dog truck parked in the Sears parking lot along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Campaigning along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Hollis French greets traffic along the Seward Highway Tuesday, August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
A trucker is greeted by a jumble of signs along the Seward Highway at Northern Lights Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Congressman Don Young supporters campaigned along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Lt. Gov. candidate Jay Ramras of Fairbanks campaigns along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News
Signs and a freight sled are displayed in support of Joe Miller along the Seward Highway at Northern Lights Boulevard Tuesday morning August 24, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Campaigning along the Seward Highway in Anchorage on election day, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

The Alaska Division of Elections said Thursday that it has more than 20,000 absentee and questioned ballots left to process from Tuesday's primary election. Most are expected to be Republican primary ballots that will decide the too-close-to-call race between U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller.

Miller is currently leading Murkowski by 1,668 votes.

Elections officials on Thursday evening released the first detailed breakdown of the remaining ballots.

The state has received back 11,266 absentee ballots so far out of over 16,000 requested. The ballots had to be postmarked by Tuesday's election but can come in as much as 15 days afterward.

There are also 658 early votes not yet counted and 8,972 questioned ballots. A ballot can be "questioned" for several reasons. Often the reason is that the voter cast the ballot in a precinct other than where they live.

Miller said in a Thursday interview that he expects to maintain his lead with the help of military absentee voters. He also said Murkowski shouldn't think about a third-party candidacy or an independent write-in effort if she loses in the primary.

"If Sen. Murkowski is going to keep her word, she's going to get out -- if the voters decide that in fact I prevail in this primary election. She said at the Kenai forum on Friday that she would respect the will of the Alaskan voter and we're going to hold her to it," Miller said by phone from Fairbanks.

Murkowski campaign manager John Bitney responded that Murkowski was focused on the ballots that are left to be counted and "any speculation about anything else is absolutely premature."

There is a possibility that Murkowski could run on the Libertarian ticket in the November general election if she loses the Republican primary. The Alaska Libertarian Party is discussing the possibility and its Senate candidate, David Haase, has said he is open to talking to Murkowski about him stepping aside.

Andrew Halcro, a Murkowski supporter who served with her in the state Legislature, called Haase on Wednesday and discussed the possibility. Halcro said he was acting on his own and not coordinating with the Murkowski campaign.

Halcro said he did bring it up with Murkowski on Thursday morning. "She said what she's told (the media), that she's considering all the options," he said.

Halcro said he thinks Murkowski should pursue the Libertarian route if she doesn't win the primary. She has the campaign cash left and a network in place to run a strong statewide campaign, he said.

THREE MORE COUNTS

The Division of Elections isn't saying how many of the ballots left to count are for the Republican primary and how many are for the Democratic primary.

But three times more Republican than Democratic ballots were cast on Election Day in the Senate race. Murkowski campaign manager Bitney watched absentees being sorted at the Division of Elections Thursday and said a "very, very high percentage" of them were Republican.

Anchorage attorney Tom Van Flein was at the Division of Elections observing for the Miller campaign.

Van Flein is best known as the personal lawyer for Sarah Palin, who endorsed Miller.

The Division of Elections plans to count all the absentee ballots on Aug. 31 that it has received by then. Some of the questioned ballots will be disqualified; for example if it turns out the voter really wasn't registered in Alaska. Those that are valid will likely be counted on Sept. 3. Elections officials said they'll do a final count of absentees and any other remaining ballots on Sept. 8.

The number of remaining ballots changes daily as more absentees come in and there's no way to know how many will be disqualified. But if all the current number of 20,896 remaining ballots were counted and three-fourths of them voted in the Republican Senate primary, Murkowski would need the vote on roughly 55 percent to win.

NATIONAL ATTENTION

Both sides are keeping close watch. The Washington Post cited unnamed sources in reporting Thursday that the National Republican Senatorial Committee will be sending lawyer Sean Cairncross to assist Murkowski's campaign during the ballot count. It's not clear what his role will be, but Miller called it questionable.

"We're just hoping that the lawyering up that's going on with the National Republican Senatorial Committee isn't going to be resulting in any improper meddling in our primary," Miller said.

Miller said he's beating Murkowski because of his volunteer network and "common sense message."

"Alaskans are common sense folk, they recognize our nation is at a bankrupt position right now," he said.

Murkowski campaign manager Bitney said people should remember "he hasn't won yet."

More on the primary election
By SEAN COCKERHAM
scockerham@adn.com