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New ballots could boost Murkowski

If absentee voters follow early voters, challenger Miller’s lead could disappear

Posted: Sunday, August 29, 2010

Joe Miller's lead over incumbent Lisa Murkowski in Alaska's U.S. Senate race continues to shock the state and the nation.

Miller, backed by the Tea Party Express and Sarah Palin, enjoys a nearly 2-percent edge of election-day votes, and all precincts have reported. However, more than 23,000 ballots remain to be counted.

Saturday, state elections officials released the amount, along with a detailed breakdown of the ballots yet to be counted. Most of those 23,472 ballots are absentee votes, but also yet to be counted are questioned ballots, as well as a few remaining early votes and those from touch-screen voting machines designed for the disabled.

Miller currently holds a lead of 1,668 votes, out of more than 92,000 cast. Elections officials will begin counting the remaining ballots Tuesday, with additional absentees continuing to arrive by mail.

An analysis by the Empire of the types of votes and where they are from indicated that Murkowski has a reasonable chance to eliminate Miller's lead.

The biggest portion of the ballots remaining to be counted are absentees, which share some significant traits with a type of ballot that has already been counted: early ballots.

Both early votes and absentee votes were cast by voters who sometimes weren't exposed to the last days of the campaign, which saw Sarah Palin making automated phone calls to Republican voters on behalf of Miller and Tea Party Express-funded ads making attacks on Murkowski.

While Miller won election-day voting 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent, Murkowski won 54.1 percent to 45.9 percent among early voters.

About three-quarters of the votes cast Tuesday were in the hotly contested Republican races for governor, lieutenant governor and senator. If that margin holds and the absentee votes mimic the early votes, that could eliminate Miller's lead, the Empire's analysis shows.

Also, a slightly larger proportion of the absentee votes come from areas where Murkowski ran strongly. Her strongest areas were in Southeast, where she was born, in Anchorage, which she represented in the Alaska Legislature, and in the Bush. Miller, from Fairbanks, was most strong in the Interior and the Mat-Su Valley.

Other ballots remaining to be counted are "questioned," ballots, which were often cast by those voting at a precinct other than the one at which they are registered. It is not clear whether those ballots will follow any specific trend.

Miller told the Associated Press he expected to do strongly among absentee voters, many of whom are active and retired military. Miller is a West Point graduate and served as an officer in the U.S. Army.

Murkowski spokesman Steve Wachowski said the campaign was not predicting what would happen with the yet-to-be-counted ballots.

"We are remaining optimistic for Tuesday's count, but are not making any predictions or projections," he said Saturday.

Sitka Democrat Scott McAdams won the Democratic primary to face the Republican winner in the November general election.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com



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