(CNN) - A new poll indicates a dead-even race in the Alaska battle between Republican Senate nominee Joe Miller and GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who's running for re-election as a write-in candidate. But a CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday also suggests that confusion or frustration over the write-in procedure could cost Murkowski crucial votes in her bid to keep her seat.
According to the poll, 37 percent of likely voters in Alaska say if the election were held today, they would vote for Murkowski, with an equal amount saying they'd cast a ballot for Miller, and 23 percent saying they'd vote for Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, the Democrats' Senate nominee. Miller and Murkowski were also deadlocked in a CNN/Time poll conducted late last month.
Murkowski, who is part of a political dynasty in Alaska, was upset in the August 24 GOP Senate primary by Miller, a previous long-shot who enjoyed strong support from Tea Party activists and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Last month Murkowski announced she would run as a write-in candidate in the general election.
While most Murkowski voters say they know how to properly cast a write-in vote and are unlikely to defect at the last minute to Miller or McAdams, the few who may spoil their ballots or change their minds when confronted by a complicated ballot may mean the difference between a win and a loss for Murkowski.
Only six percent of Murkowski voters say they are not very confident that they understand the correct procedure for writing in a candidate's name on the ballot. "But in a close race, that handful of votes that Murkowski may lose due to complicated write-in procedures may be enough to knock her out of first place," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "If the six percent of Murkowski voters who aren't very familiar with the write-in procedure cast votes for her that don't actually count, the poll indicates that she would only get about 34 percent in the final election tally - probably not enough to win."
Only one in ten Murkowski voters say they are likely to vote for one of the candidates on the ballot if the write-in procedures are different or more complicated than they anticipated. "Take those Murkowski votes out of the equation, and her tally might be down to 33 percent," says Holland.
"Polls can only measure who the voters plan to cast a ballot for - not whether those votes will actually be counted. In nearly all elections, that so-called 'spoiled ballot problem' is not a concern for candidates or pollsters. But pollsters in Alaska shouldn't assume that every respondent who plans to support Murkowski will actually cast a vote that will count on Election Day," Holland adds.
According to the poll, nearly two-thirds of Democrats say they support McAdams, with just over one in three saying they back Murkowski. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans support Miller, with 37 percent supporting Murkowski. Four in ten independent voters back Murkowski, with 32 percent supporting Miller and just under one in four backing McAdams.
"Murkowski's best showing is in Anchorage and in the Panhandle," says Holland. "Miller does best in Fairbanks, his home turf, and in the region surrounding Anchorage, including the Kenai Peninsula and the Mat-Su Valley, the home base of Sarah Palin."
In the state's gubernatorial contest, 62 percent of likely voters say they'd vote for Republican Gov. Scott Parnell if the election were held today, with 36 percent saying they'd vote for former state lawmaker Ethan Berkowitz, the Democratic nominee. Parnell's 26 point lead is up from a 19 point advantage in last month's poll.
Parnell, who was elected lieutenant governor in 2006, assumed the governorship in the summer of 2009 when Palin stepped down.
According to the survey, 62 percent of likely voters in Alaska disapprove of the job President Barack Obama's doing in the White House, with 34 percent saying they approve of how he's handling his duties.
The CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted October 15-19, with 1,508 adults in Alaska, including 1,328 registered voters and 946 likely voters questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, with a sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points for likely voters.
–CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report