Alaska Senate write-in voters must spell perfectly: lawsuit

ANCHORAGE (Reuters) - Tea Party favorite Joe Miller filed suit on Tuesday to prevent Alaska Senate write-in votes from being counted unless they spell perfectly the name of his opponent, incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski.

Murkowski lost the Republican primary to Miller but ran a write-in campaign in the general election and appeared to be leading after the election last week, but before absentee ballots were counted and write-in votes verified.

Alaska election officials are scheduled to begin verifying write-in ballots on Wednesday and were supposed to try to determine the intent of the write-in vote.

Miller’s suit filed in U.S. district court calls on election officials to throw out any ballot that does not spell the name exactly as in papers filed by candidate Murkowski.

Miller did gain 1,882 votes on Murkowski as most absentee ballots were counted in the race on Tuesday, election officials said.

With counting of early and absentee ballots still going on as of 5 p.m. local time, Murkowski remained nearly 12,000 votes ahead, assuming that almost all the write-in votes are for the incumbent.

Alaska elections officials had counted 28,927 absentee ballots of an estimated 30,000 absentee ballots on Tuesday.

Miller, who was endorsed in the primary by Tea Party champion Sarah Palin, has refused to concede before the official write-in tally is determined.

Both Murkowski and Miller have assembled teams of lawyers and volunteers to watch over the counting of the write-in ballots.

“We remain confident that Senator Murkowski will be heading into the write-in vote tally process tomorrow with a sufficient margin for victory,” Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said in a statement after most of the absentee votes had been counted.

Final results may be weeks away as elections officials try to determine voter intent on ballots that may have indecipherable handwriting or where Murkowski’s name is spelled incorrectly.

The election fight between Murkowski and Miller is the final U.S. Senate race still to be decided. The outcome will not change the balance in the new Senate because both Miller and Murkowski are Republicans. Democrat Scott McAdams is well behind in third place.

Writing by Dan Whitcomb, editing by Greg McCune