ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Associated Press) — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday called for a rapid resolution to a lawsuit brought by election rival Joe Miller, claiming Alaska will be harmed if she isn't sworn in on Jan. 3.
Attorneys for Murkowski said her seat will be vacant and Alaska will have only one senator if she's not seated on time.
"There are numerous critical issues facing our nation and Alaskans deserve to have full representation in the United States Senate," attorney Scott M. Kendall wrote in a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.
He warned that Murkowski would have a gap in service if she's not seated and she would lose her seniority.
"She would go from her current rank of 43rd to 100th," he said.
Miller sued Monday in Fairbanks Superior Court, claiming that elections officials illegally accepted improperly marked write-in ballots that benefited Murkowski.
Miller said a strict interpretation of state law bans any ballot that does not include a candidate's name as it appears on a declaration of candidacy, or simply the last name of the candidate.
Alaska elections officials have accepted minor misspellings on write-in ballots. Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell on Tuesday called Miller's claims baseless and said state courts have erred on the side of enfranchising voters when their intent is clear.
State attorneys Wednesday asked that the case be transferred to Juneau. Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai said in an affidavit that ballots and precinct registers are secured in a room with locks and alarms in Juneau and a similar secure facility would not be available in Fairbanks on short notice without significant cost.
She also said the 35 temporary election workers who sorted and counted write-in ballots, plus six full-time staff members who participated, all live in Juneau and it would be inconvenient for them to testify in Fairbanks.
Miller defeated Murkowski in the August GOP primary. The incumbent mounted a write-in campaign, backed by campaign funding of around $1 million and strong support from Alaska Native corporations. She holds a 10,328-vote lead over Miller, a total that includes 8,159 ballots contested by Miller observers.
Miller claims he still has a chance to overtake Murkowski. He has raised allegations of election fraud, claiming voters may have been allowed to take ballots even if they did not have identification or were not personally known by election workers. He said that in several precincts, handwriting samples indicate the same person or a small group of people wrote in names on multiple ballots.
Murkowski attorney Kendall argued in his motion that Murkowski deserves to be a party to the lawsuit and has already defeated Miller.
Miller, he said, had observers at each counting table as well as attorneys and supervisors in the room. Miller representatives were able to challenge ballots for any reason, he said, and for no reason.
"Only some of Miller's challenges were based on a misspelling of Sen. Murkowski's name," he said. Others were challenged because voters wrote "Murkowski, Lisa," or added the party affiliation "Republican," or wrote "L. Murkowski."
Some ballots were challenged, he said, because they included an extraneous mark, such as an exclamation point, a heart or a happy face, or because of any correction on the ballot – a misspelling crossed out and then correctly spelled.
Some ballots were challenged because of what Miller observers deemed "poor handwriting," Kendall said.
Shortly after Jan. 3, senators will organize committees and select chairmen and ranking members, he said. If the case is not resolved rapidly, he said, Murkowski might not be eligible for re-election as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee or any subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee, he said.
"The effect on Alaska from the loss of these positions would be very harmful and could be long lasting," he said.
Miller sued two weeks ago in federal court with many of the same arguments. U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said Miller's challenge raised serious legal issues but was a matter for a state court. Beistline granted a temporary injunction halting certification of the Senate election with the stipulation that Miller would take the case to the state court.
The Alaska Republican Party last week called on Miller to concede and party Chairman Randy Ruedrich repeated his concerns Wednesday. Ruedrich said he has worked closely with the Division of Elections for six election cycles and is convinced it conducts first-rate operations.
"I am troubled by the unfounded concerns and inaccurate claims expressed by the Joe Miller campaign organization, its supporters and associated individuals," Ruedrich said.
A former U.S. senator from Minnesota on Wednesday said it was time for Miller to move on. Norm Coleman, who lost the 2008 Senate race in Minnesota after a prolonged recount, told C-SPAN there's not much to be gained by extending the process.
C-SPAN provided excerpts of Coleman's interview ahead of "Newsmakers" airing Sunday.