With almost half of the write-in ballots counted Thursday evening, Incumbent U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, was capturing nearly 90% of the tally or 40,500 in unchallenged votes. The count was to continue through the weekend.

If through the second half of the count Murkowski's total of unchallenged ballots continues to equal 89.8% of the write-ins, she would win the election with 83,495 votes to the 82,180 votes cast on Nov. 2 for Republican Tea Party candidate Joe Miller.

Including ballots challenged by Miller's supporters, but determined by the Alaska Division of Elections to be legitimate, Murkowski had about 45,000 votes, or 98%, of the total write-ins through the first half of the count.

Murkowski, who ran as an independent write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Miller, has said if she is elected she will caucus with the Republicans. Currently, she is ranking minority member of the Senate Energy Committee and is expected to fight to continue in that role.

Miller supporters have threatened lawsuits to disqualify the challenged ballots that went into the count for Murkowski. The Republican's ballot watchers were challenging ballots mainly based on misspellings of Murkowski's name. However, if she should win based solely on unchallenged ballots, it would be difficult for Miller to mount a viable challenge.

Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai was accepting minor misspellings. "If I can pronounce the name by the way it's spelled, that's the standard I'm using," the Anchorage Daily News quoted Fenumiai as saying. A considerable amount of Murkowski's campaign as a write-in candidate was spent teaching audiences how to spell her name and leading practice chants so they would remember.

On the first day of counting Murkowski garnered 98% of the write-ins with about 20% of the more than 92,979 write-in votes counted, according to the Division of Elections. Approximately 89% of her votes were unchallenged, while 8.48% were challenged but counted anyway. Only 1.44% of the ballots that were challenged by Miller's representatives who were observing the tally were disqualified and not counted.

In the general election the write-in votes amounted to 40% of the total; Miller had 82,180 votes, or 35%. Democratic candidate Scott McAdams had 23% of the overall total and quickly conceded the election after most of the returns were in.

A federal court judge on Wednesday denied Miller's plea for an immediate injunction to stop the counting of the write-in ballots, saying Miller had not demonstrated irreparable harm. The state has been ordered to file a response in the case by Monday.

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