State wants ruling in Senate case by next week

Posted: Wednesday, December 01, 2010

JUNEAU - The state is asking a judge to decide a case over Alaska's still-disputed U.S. Senate race by next week.

In court papers, attorneys for the state seek a ruling by Dec. 9 due to "the risk that Alaska will be deprived of a U.S. senator for some period if this dispute is not resolved quickly." They also want the judge to the decide the case brought by Republican Joe Miller outright, in the state's favor, unless Miller provides proof to back up claims of fraud, which they call unfounded.

"Miller cannot invalidate votes merely by kicking up dust," they write. "He must actually demonstrate compelling reasons why the court should do so."

Miller's campaign continues to pore over precinct logs to look for irregularities that a spokesman said could assist it in making its case. Randy DeSoto said campaign workers also have found cases where it's not clear if a voter presented identification.

The lawsuit challenges how the state conducted the race. Miller contends election officials did not follow the letter of the law in tallying write-in votes for his rival, Sen. Lisa Murkowski. He also raises questions about voting irregularities, such as similar-appearing writing on some ballots, and DeSoto has said Miller was unable to get all his ballot watchers in place by the time the hand count of write-in votes began Nov. 10 - meaning, he said, that ballots with misspellings may have been counted for Murkowski without being challenged.

State law calls for write-in ballots to have the ovals filled in and the candidate's last name or name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy written.

The state has defended its practice of allowing for misspellings as discretion was used in determining voter intent. Officials also have defended the integrity of the process. Similar signatures could be due to voters requesting and receiving legally acceptable help in casting their ballots.

Murkowski has declared victory.

Unofficial results show her leading Miller by 10,328 votes. Excluding votes challenged by Miller observers, she still had a 2,169-vote lead. Certification of the race has been put on hold for the litigation.

The case is being heard today - nearly a month after the election - in state court in Juneau. It was transferred from Fairbanks after Judge Douglas Blankenship decided the case may require that disputed ballots be inspected and said he did not want to do anything that might "further risk the integrity of the election" - like moving the ballots more than 600 miles from the capital city to Fairbanks.

Murkowski is seeking to intervene in the case. She said on Facebook Tuesday that she'll "continue to push for a timely resolution so the election can be certified and I can be seated in the next Congress." Her attorneys have said she runs the risk of losing her seniority if the race is not certified and she is not sworn in when the new Congress convenes in January.

The winner of the race is to be sworn in Jan. 3.

Assistant Attorney General Joanne Grace said in an affidavit that the state seeks the expedited decision by next week in case a decision is appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court or sent back to federal court, where Miller also has filed suit.



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