U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska’s junior senator, has called on Republican candidate Joe Miller to drop his legal challenge to the state of Alaska’s criteria for counting write-in ballots, which made incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski the apparent winner of the election for Alaska’s senior Republican senator post last month.

Begich, a Democrat, said the drawn-out court suit, which he believes is virtually certain to fail, could deny Alaska full representation in the Senate when the 112th Congress resumes in early January (see Daily GPI, Nov. 30).

“It is time for Joe Miller to put Alaska interests ahead of personal ambition and allow the state of Alaska to certify Lisa Murkowski as the winner,” Begich said. Failure to certify the election results would prevent Murkowski from being sworn into office on Jan. 3 and could cause her to lose her seniority in the Senate.

Alaska would be left with only one senator, Begich. A seniority loss could take Murkowski from her current rank of 43rd to 100th. And she could lose her position as ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“It’s vital that Alaska have both senators putting our unique needs first and fighting for our state. Without both senators, Alaska’s interests will be at risk on critical issues from energy development to job creation and reduction of the national debt in a way that fair to Alaskans,” Begich said.

Arguments are scheduled Wednesday (Dec. 8) in a Alaska Superior Court to hear Miller’s lawsuit challenging the state of Alaska and the state’s Division of Elections criteria for counting of the write-in ballots. Murkowski waged a fierce write-in campaign after losing to Miller in the Republican primary election in August. Murkowski declared victory in late November with a more than 10,000-vote lead over Miller, of which 8,159 ballots were challenged by the Miller camp (see Daily GPI, Nov. 19).

The U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska has enjoined certification of the election results until the legal claims filed in state Superior Court are resolved. In state court, Miller is challenging those votes where Murkowski’s name was misspelled, yet were still counted in her favor. Miller argues that if Murkowski’s name was misspelled on a write-in ballot or deviated in any way from the name appearing on her declaration of candidacy, that ballot should be tossed out.

Superior Judge William Carey has expedited consideration of the case. He plans to issue a decision possibly by Thursday. The case could be appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court and if so, it then would go back to federal district court before election results for the Senate race can be certified and a senator is sworn in next month, according to the Alaska Public Radio Network.

“It is essential that this case be resolved as rapidly as possible to protect the state. Sen. Murkowski’s current term in the U.S. Senate ends on Jan. 3, 2011…If she cannot be sworn in on this date, the state of Alaska will suffer serious and irreparable harm,” said Scott M. Kendall, attorney for Murkowski.

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