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Sen. Lisa Murkowski's decision last week to run as a write-in candidate gives Alaska's voters another option in the upcoming U.S. Senate election. We fail to see how this can be anything but a good thing.
There are concerns among some Republicans that Murkowski's run will siphon votes away from the GOP's primary choice, Joe Miller, allowing Democrat Scott McAdams to claim a seat in Congress he had a scant chance of winning at this time last month. These concerns, however, forget a basic rule of how democracy works: the ballots are not Joe Miller's to lose - or Murkowski's or Miller's to gain - they are the voters' to give. And, ideally, the electorate can cast those ballots for a candidate that most closely matches his or her political ideal, not one of two politicians viewed by a ballot-caster as the lesser of two evils.
It must also be pointed out nearly 80 percent of Alaska's voters did not participate in August's Republican primary. More than 20 percent could not, locked out by the state's semi-closed primary system. A serious write-in candidacy, backed by a genuine and well-funded get-out-the-vote machine, allows those voters who did not, or could not, vote for Murkowski the first time around an opportunity to pick her in November. Whether those people did not pick Murkowski out of the apathy of a perceived foregone conclusion (in late July, Murkowski enjoyed a 2-to-1 edge in polling), the inability to choose her because of party registration or a true preference for Miller will now be seen in November.
None of this is to question the validity of Miller's primary win; only its finality. He waged an incredible campaign, landing a "Rocky"-style haymaker to the chin of "Apollo" Murkowski. The spoils of his victory are a pre-printed line on the ballot, the backing of Alaska's GOP apparatus and an ever-increasing number of nationally prominent Republicans. He earned those advantages and, if they lead to his winning this three-way dance, he'll have earned that, too.
Of course, the winner of the Senate race will have a difficult time claiming a mandate. Whoever finishes furthest past the post will almost certainly do so without 50 percent of the vote. If this is a failing, however, it is a failing of Alaska's winner-take-all elections. If the game needs to be changed to a runoff system, so be it, but it's not an excuse to criticize November's most successful player.
As voters, we ask for candidates to vote for, not against. Murkowski's entry into the race makes it more likely we will be able to make a choice with our heads held high - not with our noses clamped by a pair of fingers.