Murkowski v. Miller Standoff Continues In Alaska

Up in Alaska, Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller remain deadlocked and waiting for a vote count that could take two weeks to complete. In the meantime, though, the Senator is already considering other options for getting on the November ballot.

Two days after the polls closed, the Alaska Senate primary between Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller remains as up in the air as ever:

The Alaska Division of Elections said Thursday that it has more than 20,000 absentee and questioned ballots left to process from Tuesday’s primary election. Most are expected to be Republican primary ballots that will decide the too-close-to-call race between U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller.

Miller is currently leading Murkowski by 1,668 votes.

Elections officials on Thursday evening released the first detailed breakdown of the remaining ballots.

The state has received back 11,266 absentee ballots so far out of over 16,000 requested. The ballots had to be postmarked by Tuesday’s election but can come in as much as 15 days afterward.

There are also 658 early votes not yet counted and 8,972 questioned ballots. A ballot can be “questioned” for several reasons. Often the reason is that the voter cast the ballot in a precinct other than where they live.

Miller said in a Thursday interview that he expects to maintain his lead with the help of military absentee voters. He also said Murkowski shouldn’t think about a third-party candidacy or an independent write-in effort if she loses in the primary.

“If Sen. Murkowski is going to keep her word, she’s going to get out — if the voters decide that in fact I prevail in this primary election. She said at the Kenai forum on Friday that she would respect the will of the Alaskan voter and we’re going to hold her to it,” Miller said by phone from Fairbanks.

Murkowski campaign manager John Bitney responded that Murkowski was focused on the ballots that are left to be counted and “any speculation about anything else is absolutely premature.”

There are also reports that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is advising Murkowski on how to handle the post-election issues and the vote count and even that the NRSC was phone banking for Murkowski on Election Day, and action that, while not improper, certainly calls into question how honest a broker the committee actually is in this dispute.

Then, there is the curious case of the Alaska Libertarian Party:

There is a possibility that Murkowski could run on the Libertarian ticket in the November general election if she loses the Republican primary. The Alaska Libertarian Party is discussing the possibility and its Senate candidate, David Haase, has said he is open to talking to Murkowski about him stepping aside.

Andrew Halcro, a Murkowski supporter who served with her in the state Legislature, called Haase on Wednesday and discussed the possibility. Halcro said he was acting on his own and not coordinating with the Murkowski campaign.

Halcro said he did bring it up with Murkowski on Thursday morning. “She said what she’s told (the media), that she’s considering all the options,” he said.

Halcro said he thinks Murkowski should pursue the Libertarian route if she doesn’t win the primary. She has the campaign cash left and a network in place to run a strong statewide campaign, he said.

Now, why would the Libertarians ally themselves with someone like Lisa Murkowski who, whatever else she might be, hardly even qualified for the moniker “libertarian Republican,” to say nothing of being in line with the basic platform of the Libertarian Party ? Well, there are a few reasons.

First of all, under Alaska Election Law, any political party that gets 5% or more of the vote in a statewide General Election automatically qualifies for ballot access for the next 4-8 years. Since ballot access is a perennial issue for Libertarians nationwide, one can see the obvious appeal of putting Murkowski on the LP ballot; even if she loses in November she’s likely assured of getting more than 5% of the vote.

Second, Erick Erickson passes along a claim that Murkowski has already offered to turn over most of her $ 1,000,000 war chest to the Libertarians in exchange for them putting her on the ballot. Assuming this is true, as they say, money talks.

Third, Robert Stacey McCain notes that the effort to put Murkowski on the Libertarian is apparently being led by Andrew Halco, an Alaska Republican who has been a long time, some would say bitter, rival of Sarah Palin’s.

In the meantime, though, it all comes down to math for Murkowski at this point:

The Division of Elections isn’t saying how many of the ballots left to count are for the Republican primary and how many are for the Democratic primary.

But three times more Republican than Democratic ballots were cast on Election Day in the Senate race. Murkowski campaign manager Bitney watched absentees being sorted at the Division of Elections Thursday and said a “very, very high percentage” of them were Republican.


The number of remaining ballots changes daily as more absentees come in and there’s no way to know how many will be disqualified. But if all the current number of 20,896 remaining ballots were counted and three-fourths of them voted in the Republican Senate primary, Murkowski would need the vote on roughly 55 percent to win.

That’s not at all inconceivable and, of course, the outcome will depend heavily on how ballots are determined to be valid, which is probably why Joe Miller is saying stuff like this:

Joe Miller, the Republican candidate who is poised to knock off Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) in a primary contest, said Thursday he is concerned she will launch a protracted legal battle to save her seat.

Miller, an Iraq war veteran who received the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), emerged from the election Tuesday night with a narrow lead over Murkowski, an incumbent who assumed the seat from her father.

But officials are still counting absentee ballots in the close race, and a lawyer for the GOP Senate campaign committee is heading to Alaska to assist the senator.

“We are looking right now to make sure that the election — that the votes — are accounted for fairly, without any type of game play,” Miller said in an interview on Fox Business Network. “It concerns us any time somebody lawyers up and tries to pull an Al Franken, if you will. We are very concerned that there may be some attempt here to skew the results.”

Miller does have a point, of course, and in the isolated and somewhat chummy atmosphere of Alaska state government one wonders if a “fix” might not just be possible.

If Murkowski does end up losing the vote count, of course, she’ll face a choice and it seems fairly obvious that she’s seriously considering the Libertarian Party option, which is unfortunate. She lost the nomination of her own party, that should be the end of it. You shouldn’t be allowed to get two bites at the apple. So if you lose Senator, just do the honorable thing and fade away.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. James Joyner says:

    The Murkowskis have not demonstrated much inclination toward doing the honorable thing or fading away.

  2. Yea, I know…..I’m not expecting it

  3. Steve says:

    I received a call today from my State Republican Party.  I let them know that I was not giving any money to any party organization because of this.  I will give money to individual candidates and I suggest y’all do the same.

  4. sam says:

    “We are looking right now to make sure that the election — that the votes — are accounted for fairly, without any type of game play,” Miller said in an interview on Fox Business Network. “It concerns us any time somebody lawyers up and tries to pull an Al Franken, if you will. We are very concerned that there may be some attempt here to skew the results.”

    I can see it now, Miller vs. Murkowski and the hanging shads…

  5. Juneau: says:

    This is what career politicians do, and is a perfect illustration of why the TEA party is not wedded to the Republican establishment per se.  Whether it’s the Democrat Christine Gregoire insisting that the votes get counted again and again until she comes out ahead(in the Gubernatorial race in Washington State), or it is Republican Murkowski entertaining notions of how to “fight” against the voters choice, these types of actions are completely self-serving and have nothing to do with serving the voters.

  6. Bill Jempty says:

    Few people remember outside Alaska remember that Frank Murkowski ran unsuccessfully for Alaska’s only Congressional seat in 1970. Ten years later he ran for the Senate and won.
    He was elected Governor in 2002 and was highly unpopular with an approval rating hovering around 20% in 2006. Still Murkowski ran for re-election and got trounced. 19% of the vote in a three way race.
    Yes the Murkowskis don’t go away very easily.