10 November 2010

Murky Voter Intent in Alaska

The Alaska Senate race will be decided by how the Alaska Division of Elections (and the Court of last word) interpret voter intention for Write In votes.  On Election Day, Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller soundly beat Scott McAdams (D-AK) but there was a significant number of write-in votes, many of which were attributable to the incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski (?-AK).

Several decisions by the Alaska Division of Elections changed the rules on the fly, like providing lists of write-in candidates to voters and accelerating the schedule to count absentee ballots by a week.  Additionally, officials at the Alaska Division of Elections expressed a philosophy that would take an expansive view of voter intent.

The Miller campaign has limited success slowing the murky rush to judgment.  Miller was unsuccessful in preventing write-in aids being used in the voting booth, but citizen activism boosted the candidates list to about 150 names.  Miller expects to get many additional votes from absentees ballots cast by active duty personnel supporting their former brother-in-arms.   But the Division of Elections moved the absentee count up by a week.  Federal Courts denied Miller’s request for an injunction to stop the write-in votes.

Team Miller is pinning much of their hopes on having a strict application of election law for write-in votes as written by the Alaska legislature.  Alaska Statutes 15.15.360  "Rules for Counting Ballots" are quite specific about what is necessary for a valid write-in ballot: (1) fill in the write in oval (2) the name must be the same as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy.  That does not seem to allow for compensating for voter intent if the candidate’s name is misspelt.

This ruling may make the difference in the election.  Early counting indicates that 98% of the 89,000 write-in votes were for Murkowski and prior history indicates that 8% of the ballots will have misspellings (and that was an easier name).   Write-Ins had a 13,000 vote lead before starting the canvassing.  Miller picked up 2,700 votes from the absentee ballots counted so far.  The decision may once again be made by the courts (and any other ballots that are mysteriously “found” ala Al Franken in 2008).  To me, it sees like the Write-In is already on the Wall and the Alaskan insiders will help one of their own.  Lawfare is frustrating enough but the changing of rules and facts until the desired result is reached is dispiriting to believers in our democratic Republic.

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