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Murkowski account to help pay for vote count

Erika Bolstad
Democratic Senatorial candidate Scott McAdams shares a hug with his spokesperson Heather Handyside following a final press conference Wednesday November 3, 2010 at his headquarters in Midtown. He and his family are returning to Sitka Thursday.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Lisa Murkowski thanks her campaign staff on a conference call from her Anchorage campaign headquarters on Wednesday, November 3, 2010. Amy Erickson is at left and Carol Knutson listen in. Murkowski is hoping the number of write-in ballots cast on Tuesday will mean a successful reelection to the Senate.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Romee McAdams collects souvenirs and son Gavin cavorts through an emptying building after husband and dad Democratic Senatorial candidate Scott McAdams holds a final press conference Wednesday November 3, 2010 at his headquarters in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Question ballots await sorting as Emily Lewis, Dallas Reynolds and Janeooe Bowlin break down gear returned from polling places at the Division of Elections Wednesday afternoon November 3, 2010 in Midtown.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Democratic Senatorial candidate Scott McAdams holds a final press conference with staff before departing Anchorage Wednesday November 3, 2010 at his headquarters in Midtown. He and his family are returning to Sitka Thursday.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Lorraine Smith logs absentee ballots at the Division of Elections Wednesday afternoon November 3, 2010 in Midtown. Smith has worked elections since 1979, showing up for duty every other year. "It's a perfect job!," she said.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Lisa Murkowski talks with family and friends at her Anchorage headquarters on Wednesday, November 3, 2010. From left are Graham Judson, Eileen VanWyhe, Carol Sturgulewski and Karen Knutson.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Lisa Murkowski talks with her campaign staff at her Anchorage headquarters on Wednesday, November 3, 2010. Campaign volunteer Ralph Nobrega, center, talks with staffer Jacob Wood at right.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Frank Murkowski, right, former governor and senator of Alaska, tells his daughter Senator Lisa Murkowski that he's proud of her on the day after the general election in Anchorage on Wednesday, November 3, 2010. Lisa's mother Nancy Murkowski is at left.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News
Sen. Lisa Murkowski talks with her campaign staff at her Anchorage headquarters on Wednesday, November 3, 2010. Murkowski is hoping that the number of votes cast for a write-in candidate will mean her reelection to the US Senate.
Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News

The next round of ballot counting won't officially start until next week in Juneau, but already there's a fierce post-election legal battle heating up between U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Republican Joe Miller.

Murkowski announced Friday she has set up a separate campaign account to help pay for next week's counting of absentee and write-in ballots. She'll be back in Washington on Monday to host a fundraiser for it.

The account, known as the Alaska Voter Protection Fund, will operate under the same Federal Election Commission donor limits as regular campaign accounts, said her campaign manager, Kevin Sweeney. There's one exception: People who have already donated the maximum to Murkowski's election campaign also may donate to the legal expense fund.

Miller's campaign had this response to Murkowski's new fund, posted on the social networking site Twitter: "Bring it on!"

The legal fight will shift next week to Juneau, where more than 83,000 write-in ballots -- most, presumably, for Murkowski -- must be counted by hand. The write-in vote total is ahead of Miller's by 13,439 votes. More than 37,800 absentee, early and questioned ballots remain to be counted as well, beginning Tuesday. Write-in ballots will be checked in Juneau on Wednesday, Thursday and possibly Friday to see what names were written in.

Also on Friday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent out an e-mail encouraging donors to assist Miller.

The NRSC's main aim is to elect and re-elect Republicans, and until Friday it was unclear whether it would fully back Miller's post-election fight with Murkowski, another Republican.

In his e-mail, the chairman of the NRSC, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, warned that both sides "are beginning to lawyer up and prepare for any possible legal fights. Joe needs your help to make sure he has enough money to make it a fair contest."

"We need to get Joe the resources he needs to win the vote count," he wrote. "Because we need Joe to join our fight against Barack Obama. Help ensure that this vote count is conducted fairly."

Heading Murkowski's team is Tim McKeever, a lawyer who had worked with the late Sen. Ted Stevens. Consulting is Ben Ginsberg, a national expert in election law who was involved in the 2000 recount in Florida.

Miller is represented by Thomas Van Flein, an Anchorage lawyer who also is former Gov. Sarah Palin's attorney.

MURKOWSKI HEARS FROM WASHINGTON

Murkowski said she's received well-wishes from colleagues in Washington since Tuesday's election.

She told The Associated Press that support has come from a "whole handful" of Republicans and Democrats, including Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Vice President Joe Biden.

She says Biden told her he was proud of how she "stood up."

Murkowski returns to Washington mid-month when the Senate reconvenes.

It will be the first time she's returned since announcing in September a write-in run that caused many within the GOP establishment to publicly turn their backs on her. Murkowski lost the Republican primary in August to Miller.

MILLER TWEET RECANTED

As Alaska elections officials get ready for next week's ballot counting and checking, the state's elections chief on Friday disputed claims made by the Miller campaign that the absentee count had been moved up to Friday.

Miller tweeted that on Friday. But Gail Fenumiai, Division of Elections director, said that wasn't true.

The absentee count will begin Tuesday -- in keeping with the standard protocol of doing that count a week after the election, she said.

Miller's campaign later corrected that statement, but then claimed the state had started the pre-count process of verifying absentee ballots without notice on its calendar or notifying the campaign.

Fenumiai said the calendar is available and starts two days after every election.

She said Miller's campaign was at the verification after the primary, and her office doesn't notify any candidates of review dates.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


By ERIKA BOLSTAD
ebolstad@adn.com