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Alaska candidates wait as vote count begins

By Kristi Keck, CNN
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Joe Miller on Alaska politics, Tea Party
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Miller counting on absentee ballots falling his way; write-in ballots being disqualified
  • It will takes days for election workers to count all of the write-in ballots
  • Votes for write-in candidates outnumbered those for Joe Miller and Scott McAdams
  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski is one of 161 eligible write-in candidates

(CNN) -- Alaska Republican Joe Miller said he is "cautiously optimistic" he'll come out on top in the only undecided Senate race in the country.

A week after last Tuesday's midterm elections, workers planned to begin counting the more than 30,000 absentee ballots before moving on to the hand count of write-in votes the following day. It's expected to take about three days to count the write-in ballots.

The count was moved up from the original date of November 18 to provide election results in "a timely manner," according to Renee Limoge, spokeswoman for Alaska Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell.

As things stand now, Miller has received 34 percent of the vote, Democrat Scott McAdams, who conceded, has 24 percent and 41 percent of ballots were for write-in candidates.

The write-in votes will presumably go to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost to Miller in the Republican primary. Murkowski, however, was one of 161 eligible write-in candidates, giving Miller hope that he might still win. He currently trails by about 13,000 votes.

Noting the thousands of ballots rejected in Alaska's last statewide write-in campaign in 1998, Miller said, "When you add the numbers from the absentees, from those ballots that are going to be counted on the write-ins, we are right in there."

"We're cautiously optimistic," he said.

Murkowski on Election Night appeared pleased with the results, but aware of the battle ahead. "We're not done yet. There's still a lot out more there; we know that," she said.

Ballot count to determine Alaska race
Murkowski: We are not done yet
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Under state law, for a write-in vote to be valid, the name written on the ballot must match the name as it is listed on the write-in candidate's declaration of candidacy. In Murkowski's case, the law requires her supporters to write "Lisa Murkowski" or "Murkowski" for the vote to be counted.

However, in the event a voter misspells or abbreviates a candidate's name, such as "Lisa M." instead of "Lisa Murkowski," the Division of Elections would determine the voter's intent "on a case-by-case basis," according to division director Gail Fenumiai.

Another fellow Alaskan running as a write-in is Lisa M. Lackey, whose presence on the ballot may complicate things for Murkowski.

With two potential "Lisa M's" as write-in candidates, determining the intent of a voter who writes in "Lisa M." on his or her ballot would be much more difficult.

Miller's campaign has blasted the Division of Elections' standards as "extraordinarily ambiguous."

Miller told CNN he "expects the rule of law to be applied" in the tallying of the votes.

"This is a David and Goliath battle. It's been that from the beginning," he said. "Even now we recognize how things have been kind of stacked against us. But again I think cautious optimism is really where we're at right now. We are trying to make sure that the process, the rule of law is complied with, that we get a fair shake at the level of the Division of Elections and that we have people on the ground to watch the counting of the ballots."

Murkowski said she intends to caucus with the Republicans should she return to the Senate.

"I'm not my party's nominee, but I am a Republican," she said.

With a victory, Murkowski would avenge her August primary loss to Miller in the latest chapter of a feud with his main backers and her long-standing tension with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who backed Miller.

Murkowski was first appointed to her post by her father, then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, in 2002. Palin defeated him in the 2006 GOP gubernatorial primary.

CNN's Drew Griffin and Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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