Sen. Lisa Murkowski took a commanding 10,000-vote lead in her improbable write-in bid to retain her seat in the U.S. Senate as the final big count of votes was done Tuesday in Juneau.
While Republican nominee Joe Miller has yet to concede, there is no way now for him to win more votes than Murkowski has, save for a court challenge. A few hundred special and overseas votes remain to be counted, said Gail Fenumiai, state elections director.
"I think it is safe to say that with these numbers, once the final vote is done tomorrow, Lisa will be able to make a declaration about the finality of the campaign," said Kevin Sweeney, Murkowski's campaign manager.
Tuesday, Murkowski topped 100,000 write-in votes, but just as significantly, the number of unchallenged votes exceeded Miller's total of 90,463 by more than 2,000.
That would make Murkowski the winner with 40 percent of the vote. Miller, whose campaign was backed by former Gov. Sarah Palin, has 36 percent of the vote, while Democratic nominee Scott McAdams has 24 percent.
In a press release, Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto described Murkowski's lead as a "narrow margin," and said the still-to-be counted overseas votes are likely from military personnel who will support Miller and close that gap.
Further, he said Miller is concerned Murkowski's votes were counted by hand, while the Miller votes were counted by less accurate machines.
"The Miller ballots have all been counted by machine, with many valid ballots not being included," DeSoto said in a written statement.
Miller's campaign also continued to question the integrity of the voting process, and is demanding records from machines at polling places that show total votes cast.
"The integrity of the vote is at issue and the people of Alaska must be able to trust the results are being accurately reported," DeSoto stated.
The Miller campaign has contested the state's standard for write-in votes in court, claiming that any write-in that spelled Murkowski incorrectly or deviated from the norm should not count.
Teams of Miller observers stood by to monitor the counting process, and challenging any Murkowski votes they felt they could deny her.
Fenumiai overruled the vast bulk of those challenges and they were counted in Murkowski's tally, but they were set aside so they can be reviewed by a judge if Miller continues his legal action.
Sweeney said there may be no reason for Miller to go ahead with his lawsuit, because now Murkowski is ahead even without the challenged ballots.
"It shows that - uncontested - she has a lead of over 2,000 over what Joe Miller currently has," Sweeney said.
Each of the unchallenged Murkowski votes, more than 92,000 total, was individually reviewed and approved by an observer from the Miller campaign team without objection.
"There was a pair of eyes on each one of these" Sweeney said. "They looked at all 92,715 of these votes and determined that they did not want to challenge these votes."
Sweeney said Murkowski has said all along that she would not be claiming victory before all the votes are counted, and that the final few votes would be tallied today.
Murkowski will be flying to Anchorage today, and plans to make a public announcement around 6 p.m., he said.
The impending Murkowski victory, the first by a write-in candidate for the U.S. Senate since 1954, was clear from the first day of write-in vote count by election workers at the old Alaska Litho plant on Thane Road.
Despite widespread beliefs 7-9 percent of the write in votes would be in error, the end result was Murkowski garnering more than 97 percent of the write-in votes. Another half a percent were for some other write-in candidate, with less than 2 percent of the votes not counting for anyone.
Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or email@example.com.
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