With Sen. Lisa Murkowski moving towards re-election in write-in ballot counting in Juneau, the Joe Miller campaign said Thursday it hoped to find election fraud and voter intimidation to explain the Republican nominee's poor showing.
With nearly half the state's record 92,979 write-in votes counted by the end of the day Thursday, teams of election officials scrutinizing ballots were finding that at least 97 percent were for Murkowski.
The Miller campaign has its own teams of observers watching the count process closely, and challenging ballots they consider questionable, including misspellings, ovals not filled in, or other anomalies.
Even without the challenged ballots, Murkowski is on track to exceed Miller's total of 82,180 votes, the count is showing.
Murkowski's campaign manager, Kevin Sweeney, said the results continued to be very positive, and the Miller campaign's actions were because they were doing so poorly in their efforts to stop Murkowski votes from counting.
"For the Miller campaign, it's become desperation time," he said.
Previous write-in campaigns were plagued by rejected votes due to misspellings, but Murkowski went to great lengths to make sure her supporters knew the correct spellings, including wrist bands and wallet cards printed with her name.
"I think what's thrown the Miller forces off was just how proficient the write-in campaign was," Ben Ginsberg, a Murkowski observer and Republican lawyer who played a central role in the 2000 Florida recount that led to a Bush-Cheney victory.
"In ballot after ballot after ballot they are clearly written 'Lisa Murkowski.' I think that was a surprise," Ginsberg said.
At a Thursday press conference called by the Miller campaign, conservative activist Floyd Brown said the campaign was demanding the names written in be precisely what was listed in Murkowski's declaration of write-in candidacy.
Brandishing a clenched fish, and a wrist adorned with a "Lisa Murkowski" band, Brown said that was the standard the Miller campaign was fighting for in the write-in count battle.
"This is it, right here," Brown said as he pointed to the wrist band. "This is the standard that Lisa Murkowski spent millions of dollars asking people to write in."
All Miller wants to do is hold the voters to the standard Murkowski herself asked for, he said.
"This is the standard that she printed neat armbands with," Brown said.
"This is the simple standard that we want to be used in this elections," he said.
Miller election observers are challenging any ballot with misspellings, but Elections Director Gail Fenumiai is approving many of those ballots. Her standard, she said, is if the voter's intent is clear their vote counts.
Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said the Miller campaign is challenging numerous valid votes.
"We believe that when closer scrutiny is given to some of these challenged ballots we'll see that they are clearly for Lisa Murkowski," he said. "Why they continue to challenge, I don't know."
Brown, who said he was a volunteer strategist for Miller, said Miller was going to win and be Alaska's next U.S. senator.
"When analyzing the numbers, which I do a lot of, you have to feel great about Joe Miller's chances to win this election," Brown said.
He said he expected also to get big gains in yet-to-be-counted absentee and questioned ballots. Elections officials say most of those ballots, many of which come from districts that went strongly for Murkowski, should be counted Friday.
While Brown said he was expecting Miller to win the election, he also said Murkowski's supporters are alleged to have bullied and intimidated voters, and he hopes to find evidence of that. He did not yet say the allegations he raised had caused a Miller loss.
Sweeney said there was no way for the Murkowski campaign to respond to the allegations, since Brown did not give "any meat" to them.
Miller's observer teams so far have been challenging about 8 percent of the Murkowski ballots, a rate that has remained steady over two days of counting. Miller needs to see at least 13 percent of the write-in ballots discarded for him to win, however.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at email@example.com.