Arguments are scheduled Wednesday (Dec. 8) in a Alaska Superior Court to hear Senate Republican candidate Joe Miller’s lawsuit challenging the state of Alaska and the state’s Division of Election’s criteria for counting write-in ballots, which made incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) the apparent winner in the U.S. Senate elections last month.

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.

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 NGI, Nov. 22).

Miller’s refusal to concede that Murkowski has won the election could damage the state’s interests on Capitol Hill.

“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.

Her seat would be vacant and Alaska would have only one senator, Mark Begich (D-AK). Murkowski could lose her seniority in the Senate, going from her current rank of 43rd to 100th. And she may lose her position as ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Kendall said.

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