November 20, 2010 in Nation/World

Judge: Fight over ballots a state issue

Becky Bohrer Associated Press
 

JUNEAU, Alaska – An Alaska federal judge ruled Friday that Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller’s challenge to the counting of write-in ballots raises “serious” legal issues but is a matter for a state, not federal, court to decide.

Yet in deferring to an Alaska state court for a final decision, U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said he would grant a temporary injunction to halt official certification of the Nov. 2 election – an action Miller is seeking – so long as Miller takes his case to the state court by Monday. Miller told the Associated Press late Friday that he intended to do so.

Beistline’s unusual action was intended to “ensure that these serious state law issues are resolved prior to certification of the election,” the ruling said.

Miller sued in federal court in a bid to stop the state from using discretion in determining voter intent on write-in ballots cast for his election rival, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who declared victory in the race Wednesday. She mounted the write-in campaign after losing to Miller in the GOP primary.

State law calls for write-in ballots to have the oval filled in and the candidate’s last name or name as it appears on their declaration of candidacy written.

But the state pointed to case law in counting Murkowski ballots that contain misspellings or were phonetic to her name. Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees elections, has defended the practice, saying the state doesn’t want to disenfranchise any voters.

Miller wants the law adhered to strictly, and asked Beistline to keep the state from certifying the election results.

The target date for certifying the race is Nov. 29. A recount can then be requested by Dec. 4.

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