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