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Alaska's write-in ballot count to begin Wednesday despite challenge

By Ed Payne, CNN
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Joe Miller on Alaska politics, Tea Party
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Miller campaign challenges election rules
  • Elections official says write-in vote count will start Wednesday
  • Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski is believed to have won nearly all of the write-in votes

(CNN) -- Alaska election officials will begin counting write-in ballots Wednesday despite a federal court challenge by the campaign of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller, state director Gail Fenumiai said.

The complaint filed in federal court Tuesday afternoon asks Fenumiai's office to "adhere" to state law in the counting of write-in ballots, limiting what the suit called "subjective" voter intent rules that were issued this week.

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

The suit requests a court hearing Wednesday over the rules and asks for an injunction.

The guidelines say poll workers must consider the voter's intent when determining whether to count a ballot for a write-in candidate.

The Miller suit says, according to state election law, that a write-in vote can't be accepted if the voter did not correctly write either the full name or last name of a candidate; the voter wrote a candidate's name incorrectly, or misspelled it; or the name written on the ballot is not the name used on the candidate's certificate of candidacy.

"The Miller Campaign has consistently maintained that every valid, lawful vote should be counted," campaign attorney Ton Van Flein said in a statement. "We have further held to the expectation that the state laws, as written, should be followed, and that they should not be changed now, after the votes have been cast.

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"Yesterday, the state issued a new policy -- after the votes have been cast -- imposing a new election standard for write-in ballots," he continued. "We believe this action to be unconstitutional and contrary to express legislative mandates."

Miller is believed to be locked in a tight race with incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who ran as a write-in candidate.

In last week's election, Miller received 34 percent of the vote, Democrat Scott McAdams, who conceded, collected 24 percent and 41 percent of ballots were for write-in candidates.

Based on pre-election polling, the vast majority of write-in votes are expected to go to 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 has about 13,000 fewer votes than the write-in total.

"It is clear the Miller campaign wants to exclude as many votes from being counted as possible," Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said early Wednesday.

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 Steve Brusk and Kristi Keck contributed to this report.

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