JUNEAU, Alaska – Sen. Lisa Murkowski was officially named the winner of Alaska’s U.S. Senate race Thursday, following a period of legal fights and limbo that lasted longer than the write-in campaign she waged to keep her job.
Gov. Sean Parnell and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who oversees elections, signed the paperwork certifying her win in the hotly contested race.
The paperwork was expected to be hand-delivered to Washington, D.C., by state Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai to guard against delays that could keep Murkowski from being sworn in with her colleagues on Wednesday.
With certification, Murkowski becomes the first U.S. Senate candidate since Strom Thurmond in 1954 to win a write-in campaign.
The official vote tally certified Thursday showed her margin of victory over her nearest opponent, Republican rival Joe Miller, was 10,252 votes.
“The voters have spoken. The courts have confirmed their voice,” Parnell said. “We have certified and attested to Sen. Murkowski’s election, and I would look forward to her being sworn in in the week ahead here.”
Murkowski waged her longshot write-in bid after losing the August GOP primary to Miller, a Sarah Palin-backed tea party favorite making his first statewide run for public office.
She announced her write-in campaign Sept. 17 – an unprecedented effort in this state that lasted 46 days. Certification came 58 days after the election.
Miller was expected to announce today whether he’ll continue his challenge to the state’s handling of the election and its counting of write-in votes for Murkowski.
Miller sued in federal court shortly after the hand-count of ballots ended. He argued that the state should have strictly adhered to a law calling for write-in ballots to have the ovals filled and either the candidate’s last name or name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy written. Spelling, his attorneys insisted, mattered.
The state allowed for ballots with misspellings to be counted toward Murkowski’s total, with the director of the state Division of Elections, in consultation with state attorneys, using discretion to determine voter intent.
The federal judge, Ralph Beistline, determined the state courts were in a better position to decide the winner initially but blocked the state from certifying the results of the race until the “serious” legal issues raised by Miller were resolved.
Last week, the state Supreme Court, in an at-times strongly worded 4-0 opinion, called voter intent “paramount” and upheld a lower court decision that refused to overturn election results favoring Murkowski.
Miller then took his case back to the federal court, but Beistline refused to second-guess the state’s high court, tossing Miller’s claims of constitutional violations and lifting his hold on certification.
Miller could appeal Beistline’s decision, lodge a formal contest of the election results in state court or give up.