Quick action sought on election challenge

Posted: Thursday, December 02, 2010

An Alaska judge wants a fast resolution to candidate Joe Miller's challenge to Sen. Lisa Murkowski's write-in election victory, but won't decide until today whether the senator herself will be able to play a role in Miller's lawsuit.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Ketchikan Superior Court Judge William Carey, appearing in a Juneau courtroom by videoconference, said Alaskans want to make sure they are fully represented in Washington, D.C. in January when the new Senate convenes.

"As a citizen of the state I share the same concerns," he said.

Carey, appointed to the bench by former Gov. Sarah Palin, set tight deadlines in hopes of quickly resolving the case.

By next Wednesday, Carey wants written arguments and responses to a motion for summary judgment, he said.

Miller's attorney, Michael Morley of Washington, D.C., appearing by teleconference, opposed the motion for summary judgment and the expedited process.

A federal judge has blocked the state Elections Division from certifying the results of the U.S. Senate race, which Murkowski won by more than 10,000 votes. All other state races were certified Tuesday.

State attorneys sought quick resolution as well.

"The public has an interest in having full representation in the U.S. Senate when it convened in January," said Mike Barnhill, senior assistant attorney general.

Miller, the tea party endorsed candidate who won the Republican nomination, is hoping to find evidence of voter fraud with which to stop approval of the election. He sought the federal court injunction blocking the certification.

In court Wednesday, Morley said the Miller team needs additional time to examine voter materials. He said they're examining "similarities in handwriting where it appears that most or all of the signatures were from one or a small group of people," as well as "election registers where there was no evidence that certain voters were asked to show identification."

Miller may also "bring other claims as a result of ongoing discovery," Morley said.

The Miller team has been hinting of voter fraud since midway through the write-in count, a week-long process conducted last month at a Juneau warehouse, but has yet to present evidence supporting the allegations.

Carey Wednesday delayed action on a request by from Murkowski attorney Scott Kendall that Murkowski be allowed to intervene in the case to protect her interests.

Morley opposed an official role for Murkowski, saying state Department of Law attorneys could adequately represent Murkowski's interest, which "overlap perfectly" with the state's.

Kendall disputed that, saying Murkowski believed more than 2,000 write-in ballots rejected by Elections Director Gail Fenumiai were votes for the senator and should be counted.

Morley said those votes are not part of the ongoing case because both Miller and Fenumiai agree they shouldn't be counted, and Murkowski has not sued to force them to be counted.

Kendall said Murkowski has no reason to challenge the results of the election in court because she won, but if those ballots come into play she wants to be able to assert they should be counted as well.

Carey asked for a written argument from Murkowski Wednesday at the hearing, and said he'd issue a ruling this morning on whether Murkowski would be able to intervene in the case.

Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto referred requests for comment to Morley.

"The fact that the Murkowski campaign is now attempting to argue that a few hundred additional ballots should have been counted for her simply underscores how close this election remains, and how worried her campaign is that the court will invalidate the Division's improper count," Morley said.

The Elections division reports that Murkowski is ahead of Miller by more than 10,000 votes, of which 8,000 have been challenged by Miller.

Whatever decision is made by Carey is may be further appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court, and then the federal court must still act to lift the injunction before the results of the race can be certified.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@ juneauempire.com.

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