JUNEAU, Alaska — A judge today ruled against Republican Joe Miller’s lawsuit challenging how Alaska counted write-in votes for rival Lisa Murkowski in their Senate race, delivering another setback to the tea party-backed candidate in his longshot legal fight.
Judge William Carey’s ruling is virtually certain to be appealed to the state Supreme Court, and he said his decision wouldn’t take effect until Tuesday to give Miller time to do so.
The ruling marks a victory for Murkowski in her historic write-in Senate bid. The winner is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 5, and the legal dispute has thrown the outcome into doubt.
Miller’s attorney had asked Carey to strictly enforce a state law calling for write-in ballots to have the oval filled in, and either the candidate’s last name or the name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy written in.
Murkowski ran a write-in campaign after losing the GOP primary to Miller, and she emerged with a lead of more than 10,000 votes after a tedious count of every write-in ballot.
Miller complained that the state shouldn’t have used discretion in determining voter intent when tallying ballots for Murkowski. The state relied on case law in doing so and allowed for ballots with misspellings to be counted toward Murkowski’s total.
Miller last month said he’d stop fighting if the ballot math didn’t work in his favor. But he now insists that it’s a matter of principle to ensure the law is upheld and Alaskans got a fair election.
Murkowski’s campaign accused Miller of seeking to disenfranchise thousands of Alaska voters.
In any case, the math works against Miller: unofficial results show Murkowski ahead by 10,328 votes, and still in the lead by 2,169 votes even when excluding votes challenged by Miller’s campaign. Some of the challenges included ballots in which voters spelled her name correctly but wrote “Murkowski, Lisa,” on the line.
There were also more than 2,000 ballots that were not counted toward Murkowski’s tally and challenged by her observers. Those included ballots in which the ovals weren’t filled in but Murkowski’s name was written in.
State officials and Murkowski’s campaign have sought a speedy resolution, saying Alaska would be deprived of representation if a winner isn’t sworn in with the new Congress next month.
The governor of Alaska said this week that he is exploring his legal options to ensure Alaska’s interests are fully represented in the Senate, including the possibility of appointing an interim senator in the event of a prolonged legal fight over the race.