Joe Miller: A Strict Spelling Standard Means I Win! (Maybe)

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In an appearance today on ABC’s TopLine, Alaska Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller insisted that he could yet win the election — that is, if a strict spelling standard is applied to those write-in votes cast for incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

“Well, if the margin of disqualification holds, and assuming that the courts uphold that, and the court makes a decision on how these votes will be counted, we’re gonna be right in there,” said Miller, who garnered 36% of the vote in an election in which 40% of the total were write-in votes.As the Anchorage Daily News reported last night, after the first day of counting up the write-ins, Miller needed to have 12% of the total write-in ballots disqualified — that is, not counted for Murkowski. Interestingly, 89% of the write-ins counted so far spelled “Lisa Murkowski” perfectly, placing her just slightly above the margin needed to win, if these percentages were to hold up exactly for the rest of the count.

This leaves a key issue to be decided, then — what level of spelling error (if any) would be allowed to still count. Currently, the state is applying a more liberal voter-intent standard than it previously used, citing previous case law that favors leniency. But Miller’s campaign has been objecting.

For example, the state has overruled challenges by Team Miller to ballots using such spellings as “Merkowski,” “Murkowsky,” and “Murcowski,” where the ballots indicated that the voters produced a phonetic match to how her name is pronounced. However, while these votes have been counted so far — a move that Miller unsuccessfully attempted to stop in court — they have also been set aside and could be reviewed later on in court.

During his TopLine interview, Miller said that his campaign’s efforts right now were about “making sure the integrity of the election is upheld,” and that Murkowski should be held to the exact-spelling standard.

“When Murkowski announced this campaign two months ago, she knew the statute required proper spelling,” said Miller, citing her TV ads that used spelling-bee scenarios to impress the matter upon voters. “In the middle of the game, the Division of Elections decided to change the approach, that a different standard would be applied, one that’s never been applied to a write-in campaign.”

The hosts asked Miller if his position would result in unfairly disenfranchising voters who had intended to vote for Lisa Murkowski. “I absolutely understand that, I’m sympathetic to what you’re saying,” said Miller — but, he also said, the statute’s requirements must be upheld.

Miller also cited the example of Robin Taylor, a Republican who waged an unsuccessful write-in campaign for governor in 1998, and said that the strict standard was applied to Taylor. “The only difference between Robin Taylor and Lisa Murkowski is he wasn’t a Murkowski,” said Miller. “So the Division of Elections decided to uphold the standard, and eight percent of ballots were disqualified.”