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Alaska Senate Race: Miller Trails "Write in," but How Much is Murkowski?

Democratic Mayor Scott McAdams and Republicans Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller CBS/AP

All but six of Alaska's 438 precincts have now reported their results in the Senate race, and it appears the outcome may not be known for quite some time: "Write in" leads the pack with 41 percent of the vote, followed by Tea Party and Sarah Palin-backed Republican Joe Miller at 34 percent and Democrat Scott McAdams at 24 percent.

The main write in candidate in the race, of course, is Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who lost the GOP primary to Miller. How much of that 41 percent goes to her, however, is an open question.

While election officials have vowed to consider voter intent in reviewing ballots, which means that Murkowski's name doesn't need to be spelled correctly on a ballot, there is plenty of room for interpretation. A vote for "Lisa M.," for example, may well not go to Murkowski since one of the more than 100 people who registered as write-in candidates in an effort to hobble heris named Lisa M. Lackey. (And a small number of these write-in votes will have intentionally gone to other candidates.)

One interesting side note: There were not a lot of votes in this election, reflecting Alaska's relatively small population. There are just 81,876 write-in ballots tallied so far, and only about 200,000 votes tallied overall. In the tight Colorado Senate race, by contrast, more than 1.5 million votes have been tallied.

It will take some time to sort out how many of the write-in voters will go to Murkowski, and thus who has won the Senate seat. Absentee ballots must also be counted; the Division of Elections sent out more than 31,200, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Here are the ugly details on what comes now, via the ADN:

"Alaska's computerized voting system shows how many voters filled in the oval for a write-in candidate but not the actual name the voter wrote in. The write-in ballots are only opened to look at the name if there are more of them than votes for the leading candidate, or if the number of write-in ballots is within .5 percent of the frontrunner."

Alaska's lieutenant governor said today that the write-in count will start next Wednesday, November 10th.

Miller faced a string of bad press in the runup to the elections, including reports following his admission that he inappropriately engaged in private polling while on the job and then lied about it. His missteps may be hurting him at the polls despite last-minute efforts to boost his candidacy by Palin, who rallied for him in Anchorage last Thursday. Palin and Murkowski have an acrimonious history.

If she wins, Murkowski will become only the second person in history to be win election to a major office by a write-in campaign - the first being South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, who was elected in 1954. Murkowski spent $1 million on her write-in campaign.


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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