Alaska News

Miller calls for hand recount of votes as Murkowski lead grows

Sen. Lisa Murkowski enjoys an apparently insurmountable 10,400-vote lead over Joe Miller after the week-long review of write-in ballots. But the Miller campaign isn't giving up and says Alaska's computerized voting system is "suspect."

The Miller campaign wants the Division of Elections to recount the entire Senate race by hand, spokesman Randy DeSoto said Tuesday night.

Even subtracting all the votes counted for Murkowski but challenged by the Miller campaign, Murkowski would still be ahead by 2,247 votes. That margin appears to make Miller's lawsuit asking the courts to toss out misspelled votes irrelevant. There aren't enough misspelled votes identified for Miller to win.

But DeSoto said that the lawsuit is continuing and the campaign hopes a hand recount will pick up more Miller votes. There were more than 255,000 votes cast in Alaska's Senate election.

DeSoto noted the write-in ballots were reviewed by hand to see what name voters wrote in. "Given how close the vote totals are, Miller needs to be given the same opportunity of having all of his ballots inspected and counted by hand to ensure every vote cast for him is counted," DeSoto said in a written statement.

But Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said the state doesn't do recounts entirely by hand. "Recounts are done using the optical scan equipment," she said in an e-mail.

That could lead to another court fight between Miller and the Division of Elections. Miller has already filed two lawsuits over the election. One argues no misspelled ballots should be counted. The other sought voter rolls from several precincts.


The state plans to give Miller access to the rolls. He says he needs them to compare the number of ballots cast with the number of people who signed in to vote. But the Miller campaign asserts that the state hasn't responded to its request to review "voting tapes" from the ballot machines that record the votes cast.

The Division of Elections has now counted 100,868 votes for Murkowski and 90,468 for Miller.

All that remains to be counted are an estimated 600 absentee ballots from military and overseas addresses. The state plans to count those ballots today.

Murkowski is coming back to Alaska from Washington, D.C., today and is expected to claim victory after those final ballots are tallied. The Murkowski campaign said Miller should concede after they're counted. Miller has said previously he would stop contesting the election if it became obvious he has no chance.

"Throughout the past several days, Joe Miller has said that he will not continue to contest the election if the votes don't add up," said Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney. "By the end of the day (Tuesday), after every Alaskan vote will have been counted, we expect Mr. Miller to keep his word."

If there is any recount, the Miller campaign would have to pay for it. The state only pays for recounts if a candidate is within .5 percent of winning.

Teams of ballot counters went through more than 100,000 write-in ballots over the past week in Juneau to see what voters wrote. Observers from both campaigns watched.

The Miller campaign challenged 8,153 of the votes the Division of Elections counted for Murkowski. Some of those appeared to be filled out perfectly. The challenges were most often of ballots that misspelled a letter or two in her last name.

Murkowski ended up with 92,715 votes that were unchallenged by the Miller campaign. That is still 2,247 votes more than the 90,468 Miller received.

The Miller campaign has suggested in recent days there was possible voter fraud, but has not provided proof. The campaign is also complaining about the state's computerized voting system, and cites a lawsuit by the Alaska Democratic Party following the 2004 election. The count stood but a judge said the system at the time did not provide sufficient means of confirming the accuracy of the results.

The state maintained the count was accurate, and that the dispute arose from the confusing way it reported results to the public. The state says it has since improved the system but the Miller campaign has now seized it as an issue.

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Sean Cockerham

Sean Cockerham is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He also covered Alaska issues for McClatchy Newspapers based in Washington, D.C.