Miller ups stakes in claims against Murkowski victory

Posted: Thursday, December 09, 2010

Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller appeared in a Juneau courtroom Wednesday and raised new allegations against state elections officials in his bid to block the write-in re-election victory of Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Among the new charges made by Miller Wednesday were that hundreds of felons may have been allowed to vote and that thousands more ballots than previously alleged may be invalid.

Miller attorney Michael Morley of Washington, D.C. said if all the errors are added together they may amount to 15,000 ballots, enough to sway the election.

The state Elections Division defended the Nov. 2 election, and said the outcome was a clear victory for Murkowski, even if Miller were to successfully invalidate the 8,000 ballots he's challenging. Murkowski leads by more than 10,000 votes. They disputed Miller's new allegations as well.

The election and write-in count were conducted fairly and diligently said Department of Law attorney Joanne Grace, despite a host of vague allegations by Miller.

Murkowski's victory was a "full and fair expression of the public will," she said.

Miller is challenging the election in both state and federal court, and won a injunction in federal court blocking the state from certifying the election results until the state court acts.

Wednesday's hearing was on a state motion for summary judgment on which it hopes to get the state court case dismissed. It was held before Superior Court Judge William Carey of Ketchikan.

Morley said state elections officials are claiming "awesome power" to decide elections by deciding themselves which ballots count. If Miller can invalidate 15,000 Murkowski ballots, he might win, but Grace said many ballots Miller is now challenging could have been cast for candidates other than Murkowski.

Miller's claims of similar handwriting on write-in ballots don't amount to a legitimate election challenges, she said.

Wednesday, Miller acknowledged some number of the votes his observers challenged at the week-long write-in vote counting process by elections workers at the old Alaska Litho building in November were actually valid Murkowski votes, but blamed any errors on the Elections Division, which he said rushed to begin the write-in count.

"This process was advanced by over a week, and that created a lot of disruption on our team," Miller said after the hearing.

While Miller is no longer asserting write-in ballots that read "Murkowski, Lisa" are invalid, he said he did not know how many of the ballots his observers challenged were because of that format.

In other instances, he said, the hurried process led to ballots he maintains were invalid actually being counted.

"There were ballots that should have been contested that weren't," he said.

State attorneys, however, said Miller's demand for precision is not in state law. Grace said the Division of Elections continued to use the "voter intent" standard approved by the courts.

Miller also raised the issue of felons voting in the race, and said a comparison of voter rolls to the state's sex offender database shows what may be hundreds of illegal votes.

Fenumiai said later that under state law those committing crimes of "moral turpitude" are barred from voting unless their rights are restored, and the Elections Division weekly checks crime data for new convictions and deletes registrations from such voters.

The Murkowski campaign's attorneys said she risks losing her years of seniority if the election results are not certified by the time the Senate convenes in January. Campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said Wednesday with the attention the courts have shown to the case, it is likely that it will be resolved before then and that won't be an issue.

Gov. Sean Parnell said he was exploring what steps he could take to insure the state is represented by two senators in January, but declined to call upon Miller to withdraw his legal challenge.

Instead, Parnell said he's asked the Department of Law what his options are, including whether he can appoint an interim senator to fill the seat.

Carey said he hopes to issue a ruling by Friday, but he and others say they expect an appeal to the Supreme Court is a near certainty. There is also the federal injunction that must be dealt with.

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



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