Alaska election chief: Murkowski write-in bid ‘new ground’

Chris Moody Contributor
Font Size:

If you thought the battle in 2000 over “hanging chads” in Florida was a thrill, you’ll love Alaska’s possible forthcoming dispute over misspelled write-in ballots for Republican Sen. Lisa MurkouskiMerkosky…Murkowski.

Murkowski launched a write-in campaign after losing to Tea Party favorite Joe Miller in the Republican primary in August, and the Alaska Division of Elections is prepping its attorneys for a possible showdown over whether ballots with misspelled names should be counted.

The division has not established firm guidelines on exactly which misspellings will be discarded, but the state Supreme Court has ruled that misspelled ballots can count so long as a clear attempt was made to vote for the candidate. Alaska Lt. Governor Craig Campbell, who oversees elections, has said that the candidate’s surname must be spelled out in some form. So write-in attempts like “Lisa” or “Lisa M.” probably won’t count.

“After careful review of the statutes it is clear that the oval must be marked and either a candidate’s last name or their name as written on their declaration of candidacy must be present in order for the vote to be counted,” Campbell said in a statement in September.

Misspelled ballots will “most likely be counted,” said Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections.

If the election is tight, as polls suggest it could be, there is little doubt that lawyers from both camps will scramble to heavily scrutinize every ballot. In a recent Rasmussen survey, Miller and Murkowski were within just one point of each other. The margin could widen on Election Day since Murkowski’s name will not appear on the ballot as it did in the poll.

Under Alaska election law, one of two thresholds must be met before the Election Division will even consider recounting the write-in votes by hand: The write-in candidate must be the highest vote getter or trail behind the leader by no more than half of one percent.

“If one of those two aren’t met then we will never even go back and look through to re-count the individual ballots,” Fenumiai said.

If that happens, Alaskans will have to wait two weeks before the elections division will begin a recount. Absentee ballots can be mailed in up to 15 days after election night, and only after that will the division determine if a recount is necessary.

The state implemented new rules about ten years ago that require candidates to announce their write-in campaigns before Election Day, a step Murkowski took last week. Fenumiai said that under the new rules, the state has never experienced a write-in campaign of this scale.

“Since those rules were put in place there has not been a write in candidate of this magnitude,” Fenumiai said. “I would consider it new ground.”

May the best candidate, er, lawyer, win.

Email Chris Moody and follow him on Twitter