The Alaska U.S. Senate race hasn't been decided, Republican Joe Miller said this morning. His campaign issued a statement saying he "remains optimistic" that he'll be "the next U.S. senator from the state of Alaska."
Election returns on Tuesday showed Sen. Lisa Murkowski's historic write-in campaign in the lead - with 432 of 438 precincts reporting, 41 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.
The state mailed more than 30,000 absentee ballots but won't begin counting them until next Tuesday. Until those are counted, it's premature for the race to be considered a Murkowski victory, the Miller campaign said.
"At this point, without a single write-in ballot counted, Lisa Murkowski has no claim on a victory," Miller's campaign said in a statement on his website.
"With tens of thousands of absentee votes yet to be counted, and the disposition of the write-in ballots cast unknown, who will be Alaska's next United States Senator is yet to be determined," said Miller's spokesman, Randy DeSoto. "We will all have to have some patience as we allow the Division of Elections to complete the ballot counting process."
The Miller campaign is arguing that as many as 5 to 6 percent of ballots were thrown out in previous elections.
Write-in ballots are opened and counted by hand only if there are enough to flat-out win the race or if the number of write-ins comes a close second -- within 0.5 percent -- of the candidate with the most votes.
Simply writing a candidate's first name or initials may not work. State law calls for voters to fill out the last name of the candidate, or his or her full name as it appears on the candidate's declaration to run.
Ballots that include a write-in name but don't have the oval filled in won't be counted, election officials have said. Filling in the oval is a requirement of state law.
By ERIKA BOLSTAD and SEAN COCKERHAM
Anchorage Daily News