Murkowski uncertain about criteria

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2010

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, mounting a write-in campaign to hold onto her job, said considerable uncertainty remains over what criteria election officials will use to determine which write-in ballots would be counted.

Murkowski, who lost last month's GOP primary to Joe Miller, told The Associated Press it would be helpful to get greater clarity from the state.

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees Alaska elections, said he expected officials would "lean toward a liberal" view on spelling, and not discard a vote because "Murkowski" was misspelled, so long as voter intent was clear.

Campbell later issued a statement sidestepping the issue, saying he wouldn't address hypotheticals.

Also unclear: Whether "Lisa," ''LM" or "Lisa M" would count. Not according to Campbell's reading of the law, which is that voters would need to mark the ballot oval and write in either the candidate's last name or the name as it appears on the candidate's declaration to run. He's asked the attorney general to review the matter.

The election is Nov. 2.

"Right now," Murkowski said, "I think it's fair to say there is a lot of uncertainty. And there are enough hurdles with a write-in candidacy that we want to get clarification to the fullest extent possible."

History isn't on her side: historians and election officials can't think of any Alaska candidate who's successfully run as a write-in.

And she's running not only against Miller, a self-described constitutional conservative who's been furiously raising money and further building his grassroots network, but also against outside groups like Tea Party Express - staunch Miller supporters that have vowed in some cases to spend at least $100,000 to help defeat Murkowski.

Democrat Scott McAdams' campaign said he raised about $300,000 in three weeks.

"We know that this is going to be difficult," she said. "But just because it's difficult doesn't mean that we can't fight back, that we can't stand up for our state."

But Murkowski enjoys widespread name recognition and has a track record voters can look at. She also said she has more than $1 million in the bank, a sum she hopes to grow with the help of Alaska donors and PACs.

McAdams and Miller each also hope to raise at least $1 million of their own. Miller is scheduled to be in Washington for meetings with GOP leaders and a fundraiser next week.

Murkowski apologized to supporters at the opening of her campaign headquarters in Juneau late Friday, telling them she had failed during the primary to help Alaskans understand the importance of the race and to keep her record from being "trashed." She said she was determined not to repeat the same mistakes, and she asked them to stand with her.

"I will not let you down again," she said, with cheers rising from the 80 or so gathered in the space - decorated with "Lisa" balloons and "Let's Make History" signs - and trailing out the door.

It could take a while for Alaskans to learn the outcome of the race. State Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said officials will have to wait until all ballots are counted before they can determine whether there are enough write-ins for them to be legally required to hand count them.

The division plans to hire additional workers to serve on hand-count teams, which separate ballots with write-in votes in the race from those without them. She said the process could take three to five days.

The fate of the primary was in limbo for a week, as Alaskans awaited the results of absentee ballots. Murkowski conceded that race Aug. 31. She ultimately lost by 2,006 votes.

For now, Murkowski is focused on educating voters about the basics: the darkening in of the oval and writing in of "Lisa Murkowski." She said she's also working on releasing a "catchy" jingle designed to get the spelling of her name stuck in Alaskans' heads.

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