ANCHORAGE - U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday called for a rapid resolution to a lawsuit brought by election rival Joe Miller, claiming Alaska will be harmed if she isn't sworn in Jan. 3.
Attorneys for Murkowski said her seat will be vacant and Alaska will have only one senator if she's not seated on time.
"There are numerous critical issues facing our nation and Alaskans deserve to have full representation in the United States Senate," attorney Scott M. Kendall wrote in a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.
He warned that Murkowski would have a gap in service if she's not seated and she would lose her seniority.
"She would go from her current rank of 43rd to 100th," he said.
Miller sued Monday in Fairbanks Superior Court, claiming that elections officials illegally accepted improperly marked write-in ballots that benefited Murkowski.
Miller said a strict interpretation of state law bans any ballot that does not include a candidate's name as it appears on a declaration of candidacy, or simply the last name of the candidate.
Alaska elections officials have accepted minor misspellings on write-in ballots. Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell on Tuesday called Miller's claims baseless and said state courts have erred on the side of enfranchising voters when their intent is clear.
State attorneys Wednesday asked the case be transferred to Juneau. Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai said in an affidavit that ballots and precinct registers are secured in a room with locks and alarms in Juneau and a similar secure facility would not be available in Fairbanks on short notice without significant cost.
She also said the 35 temporary election workers who sorted and counted write-in ballots, plus six full-time staff members who participated, all live in Juneau and it would be inconvenient for them to testify in Fairbanks.
Miller defeated Murkowski in the August GOP primary. The incumbent mounted a write-in campaign, backed by campaign funding of around $1 million and strong support from Alaska Native corporations. She holds a 10,328-vote lead over Miller, a total that includes 8,159 ballots contested by Miller observers.
Miller claims he still has a chance to overtake Murkowski. He has raised allegations of election fraud, claiming voters may have been allowed to take ballots even if they did not have identification or were not personally known by election workers. He said that in several precincts, handwriting samples indicate the same person or a small group of people wrote in names on multiple ballots.
Murkowski attorney Kendall argued in his motion that Murkowski deserves to be a party to the lawsuit and has already defeated Miller.
Miller, he said, had observers at each counting table as well as attorneys and supervisors in the room. Miller representatives were able to challenge ballots for any reason, he said, and for no reason.
"Only some of Miller's challenges were based on a misspelling of Sen. Murkowski's name," he said. Others were challenged because voters wrote "Murkowski, Lisa," or added the party affiliation "Republican," or wrote "L. Murkowski."
Some ballots were challenged, he said, because they included an extraneous mark, such as an exclamation point, a heart or a happy face, or because of any correction on the ballot - a misspelling crossed out and then correctly spelled.
Some ballots were challenged because of what Miller observers deemed "poor handwriting," Kendall said.
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