Judge Rules Against Miller Challenge

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau, Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks & Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC

A state judge has ruled against Republican candidate Joe Miller in his challenge over the counting of more than 8,000 write-in ballots in the Nov. 2 election. They were cast for Senator Lisa Murkowski, his opponent and the apparent winner of the race for U.S. Senate.

Ketchikan Superior Judge William Carey issued the 34-page opinion this afternoon, granting the state Division of Elections’ request for summary judgment.

Miller wanted only write-in ballots for Murkowski counted in which the voter had spelled her name exactly. However,  Judge Carey wrote that state law and Alaska Supreme Court precedent already allows the Division of Elections to determine voter intent in the counting of write-in ballots, as long as it’s a “reasonable or common sense interpretation.” In other words, minor misspellings would be allowed as long as the name is “as it appears” on a declaration of candidacy. Judge Carey does not believe that is the same as “exactly” or “precisely”. Excluding ballots for a small error could disenfranchise elderly, disabled or naturalized voters.

Other claims by Miller that voters’ identities were not checked at the polls or that ballots had similar handwriting were both turned aside. There was no evidence shown that election workers acted unlawfully.

No word from the Miller campaign yet. A campaign spokesman indicated that a statement would be forthcoming.

The denial of all of Miller’s claims, as well as a single claim lodged by Murkowski, means the case will likely be appealed immediately to the Alaska Supreme Court. A stay on the opinion is in effect through Tuesday so appeals can be filed.

Murkowski had intervened in the case because of votes for her in which the ovals were not filled in.

Judge Carey wrote that, no matter what opinion would be issued about the status of challenged ballots, the overarching issue would still be moot. The final outcome of the election would not change. Murkowski would still have an over 2,000 vote lead. But he determined the dispute justified a court’s careful review because of the high public interest.

Election Day was more than a month ago, but both Miller and Murkowski have continued to raise money to pay for the court battle.

Joe Miller had more than $900,000 in the bank as of Nov. 22, and Lisa Murkowski nearly $500,000.  Candidates recently reported their fundraising chests to the Federal Elections Commission through the Nov. 22.

Miller hit Election Day with hundreds of thousands of dollars unspent, and has gotten more than $240,000 in contributions since last month’s general election.

He spent some of the money paying himself back.  Miller Campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto says the latest donations have enabled Miller to recover more than $100,000 he used to jump-start his Senate run.

Federal Elections Commission rules allow candidates to pay themselves back money loaned to their campaigns. The majority of the money that’s been contributed to Miller since the November election has come from outside Alaska, a mix of individuals, groups and political action committees.  De Soto says most of the funds raised since election day are going to legal expenses.

Candidates can continue to fund raise after the election, as long as they file regular federal reports.  If a candidate finishes a campaign and wins, they can roll any extra funds to their next race.  If a candidate loses, he or she can donate the left-over money to charity, convert it to a multi-candidate committee, or make contributions to other committees, or state and local parties.

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