Absentee ballot counting Tuesday trimmed nearly 2,000 votes from the 13,000 difference that Republican nominee Joe Miller has to make up to elect the Tea Party-backed candidate to the U.S. Senate.
"Today was a great day," Miller told supporters gathered in Juneau Tuesday evening at the campaign's storefront office in the Nugget Mall.
Tuesday he also tried to block the write-in count he has said was biased against him.
Miller began the day with his vote total trailing the number of write-in votes, presumably for Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski, by 13,448, out of more than 230,000 counted so far. By the end of the day Murkowski's lead had shrunk by 2,115 to 11,333.
The Murkowski campaign downplayed the diminished lead, and campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said they still expected to win.
Miller predicted that remaining absentee votes left to count would similarly favor him.
"We expect the percentage we gained by today to continue," he said.
One bright spot for Murkowski Tuesday: The absentee ballots remaining to be counted come predominantly from Bush districts that backed Murkowski on election day, not Miller. One district that strongly supported Miller remains to be counted as well.
A view by Native leaders that Miller's positions were anti-Native prompted them to lead a strong effort to return Murkowski to Washington, D.C.
Those battles continued Tuesday, with the Miller campaign going to court to try to restrict the state's vote counting effort, and the Alaska Federation of Natives seeking U.S. Department of Justice oversight of the vote counting process.
Tuesday, Miller defended his actions and denied that he was attempting to disenfranchise Alaska voters by rejecting ballots in which a voter's intent was clear but he or she may have misspelled or mismarked their ballots in some way.
"I think we're pursuing what's called 'the rule of law,'" Miller said.
Miller's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, argued in court that "write-in ballots with misspellings are statutorily invalid."
Miller said state law says the name written in must be as it appears on the declaration of write-in candidacy, and state elections officials have no right to change what was adopted by legislators.
"We're talking about the rule of law, not some unelected bureaucrat making the decision as opposed to a decision made by the elected representatives," Miller said.
If the state can decide to accept misspellings, it can decide to make up different standards some time when it may be some different candidate, he said.
"Next time it may be your candidate," he said.
"We're talking about preserving the rights of Alaskans for the future, we're talking about the rule of law," he said.
Miller also said, in a press release responding to AFN's call for federal observers, the organization was suggesting that "Alaskans, and Alaska Natives in particular, don't know how to spell."
AFN Executive Director Julie Kitka and AFN Co-chairman Albert Kookesh did not return phone calls Tuesday.
Miller declined to renew his claim that top state elections officials were biased against him.
"We're not going to say he's biased in any way, but we're concerned about the process," Miller said.
The Murkowski campaign stayed above the fray, but Sweeney issued a statement Tuesday evening downplaying the diminished lead and calling it "not unexpected."
"We remain confident that Senator Murkowski will be heading into the write-in vote tally process tomorrow with a sufficient margin for victory," Sweeney said.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at email@example.com.
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