JUNEAU -- With the write-in count continuing to bode poorly for GOP candidate Joe Miller Thursday, his campaign staged what can only be described as a bizarre press conference here to raise the specter of alleged electoral fraud and voter intimidation in Alaska's 2010 Senate race.
Floyd Brown, a conservative strategist who flew into Juneau with Joe Miller on Tuesday, said the campaign had heard of many instances of voter intimidation, but refused to name one individual who had experienced such intimidation. He read aloud a phone number Alaskans could call to report threats or bullying. And he reported the gap in votes between Miller and incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- the write-in candidate -- was getting closer every day, even though all the evidence pointed in the opposite direction.
As counting wrapped up Thursday, the numbers released by the Alaska Division of Elections were not favorable to Miller's Senate dreams. With 49 percent of write-in votes counted, the division was calling 98 percent for Murkowski. If that trend continues -- it has been holding at almost the same rate since the first the ballots were counted -- Murkowski will boast a lead of 8,700 votes over Miller in the final tally.
"For the Miller camp, it's become desperation time," said Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney.
That assessment is harsh. It might also be true. If write-in ballots continue to follow the trend established through the first 49 percent, the options open to the Miller campaign will be limited.
John Tiemessen, an attorney representing Miller, said the campaign has two possible avenues of attack to try to pull out a victory if Miller finishes officially in second. One is the lawsuit currently in U.S. District Court. It argues against the Division of Elections accepting minor misspellings of "Lisa Murkowski" in the voting. However, even if U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline were to rule in favor of the Miller campaign, many of the ballots Miller observers have challenged fall short of spelling errors.
A bunch of the ballots in the "challenged" pile are there because Miller observers objected to Murkowski's name being written with an overly loopy "u," or written in with an "r" in cursive in an otherwise printed Murkowski. Miller has even challenged "Lisa Murkowski, Republican" as a violation of election rules.
The second option open to the Miller campaign, Tiesmessen said, would be to appeal decisions made by the election board to the Alaska Superior Court. Even if expedited, he warned, such an appeal could take "months and months," and if "at the end of the day, if Lisa Murkowski has more valid votes than Joe Miller, then the state law says Lisa Murkowski is the next senator for the state of Alaska."
Still, there are other options for prolonging the election in hopes something will change, and Miller has a toll free hotline -- 1-866-446-4138 -- trolling for the game changer it hopes to find in voting fraud.
A candidate can request a recount at any time if they pay for it themselves (a statewide recount costs $15,000, according to elections director Gail Fenumiai). Miller has been busy online soliciting funds for any possible challenge to the election.
A state-paid recount will happen if Miller is within a half-percentage point of Murkowski using the total from the Division of Elections -- not the total the Miller campaign has created by challenging huge numbers of votes. Unfortunately for Miller, that is not looking likely, and Miller's campaign indicated it thought a recount may be somewhat futile.
"A recount under the same rules would produce the same result," said Tiemessen. "We're not saying anybody's math is wrong."
There is, however, a contest provision in the state election statutes that allows a candidate to challenge an election if they believe there has been widespread voting irregularities or fraud.
Miller has hinted that Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, if not the whole of the state's Republican establishment, is out to get him. He even once went so far as to suggest state Republican chairman Randy Ruduerich, who now public backs Miller, might be trying to kill him. And Brown implied very strongly during the press conference that he believes such egregious acts of voting fraud will be found, but so far nothing of the kind has been substantiated.
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