November 11th, 2010
04:49 PM ET
12 years ago

When "M-u-r-k-o-w-s-k-i" spells a vote for Murkowski

Juneau, Alaska (CNN) - When does "M-u-r-k-o-w-s-k-i" spell "M-u-r-k-o-w-s-k-i"?

It depends on who's deciding.

The nation's last Senate race is beginning to look a lot like high stakes hair-splitting.

At issue: not just the spelling of Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's name on the over 92,000 write-in ballots but, in some cases, how it was written.

And this is sparking fresh debate between observers from her campaign, and others representing Republican opponent Joe Miller, who are watching as officials with the Alaska Division of Elections count the write-in ballots.

Case in point: CNN observed some votes for "Lisa Murkowski." That is the exact spelling of the incumbent Alaska senator's name.

And yet some observers for Miller have questioned: did the person who wrote in "Lisa Murkowski" really mean "Lisa Murkowski?"

Some reasons cited to question the ballot: the handwriting, while correctly spelled, was somewhat hard to read, contained smudges or some other imperfection.

Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto was asked about challenges to those ballots.

"As of yesterday, 89-percent were going unchallenged," DeSoto said. "I think they're saying, if there's a letter, anything that seems different that's not clear…let's just move them to the side and look at them again. That's the intent."

CNN pressed DeSoto on the Miller campaign's confidence that none of the challenges are frivolous.

That's "certainly not our intent to create any frivolous" challenges, DeSoto said.

In one hypothetical vote-counting scenario, if Murkowski continues to see 89 percent of the write-ins as clear votes for her, and even if all of the challenged ballots are thrown out, Murkowski could win the race.

CNN also observed write-in ballots cast for "Lisa Murkoski," "L. Murkosski," "Lisa Macoski," to name a few.

Did voters who cast these ballots intend to vote for the incumbent Alaska senator?

In some cases, the official in charge of deciding – Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai – has said, yes. In rare cases, she has said no.

But it's that determination of a "voter's intent" that has infuriated Miller's campaign and served as basis of its lawsuit.

Murkowski Campaign Manager Kevin Sweeney defended the practice to CNN.

"I think the Division of Elections is doing the right thing, right now, in looking at the intent of the voter and counting the ballots that they believe are cast for Lisa Murkowski," Sweeney said. "I think that every Alaskan who took the time to go to the poll to write out a name, their vote should be counted."

Sweeney continued: "We're seeing that a lot of the challenged ballots right now are perfectly spelled. They've sort of changed the threshold for which they challenge a ballot. Yesterday they, at one point, were challenging…"Murkowski, Lisa" – which were perfectly spelled."

Filed under: Alaska • Joe Miller • Lisa Murkowski
soundoff (45 Responses)
  1. VA Teacher

    I thought that Alaska law states that the voter MUST spell the name of the write-in candidate correctly. What is this 'intent' nonsense?

    November 11, 2010 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  2. Patriot

    If the voter wrote in "Muhammad Ali, Best Hevyweight Champion of the World Ever," the intent would be clear that it wasn't for Lisa Murkowski. However, if the voter wrote "lLsa Murkowsky", it could plainly be seen that the intent was for Jesus Christ and not Lisa Murkowski.

    November 11, 2010 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  3. roro

    This is just proof that Miller is a sore loser. With a name like Murkowski, some are bound to spell it incorrectly, This should not matter one whit. It's perfectly obvious what the voter intended, and they should all count.

    November 11, 2010 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  4. Vince

    Alaska voters don't want Joe Miller in the Senate. Goodbye Tea Party.

    November 11, 2010 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  5. Looking at one side of the aisle is not productive

    "Intent" is nonsense? Wow. A misspelling and your vote doesn't count. Anyone who suggests it should count when no other candidate has a name anywhere close to the same spelling is uttering "nonsense"? Wow. Just wow.

    November 11, 2010 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  6. V

    There is no way any one can determine someone's "intent". How ridiculous.

    November 11, 2010 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  7. Dixie

    The law was obviously put into effect to discourage write ins. I would be willing to bet half the idiots that voted for Joe Miller couldn't spell Miller ... and the other half of them couldn't spell Joe.

    November 11, 2010 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  8. AK Resident

    Unless you live here, don't worry about it. You have nothing to say. Did you not read that 89% of the ballots were unchallenged? Or that they are contesting some that are perfectly spelled? That some that are indeed mispelled are simply one letter off (on a fairly difficult name)??
    Alaskans are big on common sense which you clearly do not have. Apologies to the VA youth.

    November 11, 2010 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  9. Dan

    Joe Miller and his idiot Tea Bagger-Palin-supported campaign should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. This is a frivolous use of taxpayer money, and they are merely a bunch of lawyer-heavy sore losers.

    November 11, 2010 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  10. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Ahhh, nothing like disenfranchising the clear will of the people by using the old literacy test (outlawed half a century ago!)

    November 11, 2010 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  11. Peter E

    A) I thought tea partiers fancied themselves as respecting the 'will of the people.' All I see is Miller trying to defy the clear will of the people based on trivialities.
    B) Since when does the anti-establishgment, defy-restrictive-laws tea party crowd care about following the letter of the law? Isn't their whole platform supposedly based on overturning pitiful laws that restrict democracy and freedom?

    November 11, 2010 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  12. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Oh, and btw, kudos to Alaskans for their literacy. In a country where most people never properly learn the difference among they're, their and there it is quite impressive to see 89% of voters get the spelling of a difficult name like Murkowski right.

    November 11, 2010 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  13. Ben A.

    Please Americans, let us with one mighty cry say no to manipulators, cheats, opportunists, liars, bad losers, etc, etc. Alaska has spoken. Lisa Murkowski is the winner.

    November 11, 2010 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  14. Marie MD

    I was hoping that write in voting people would bring a piece of paper with her name spelled out correctly so they could copy it. Regardless, the boy toy of the half term meaney is out!
    If it's close enough and it's not miller or mcadams(I think) or your neighbor down the street, come on!!!
    GO ALASKA!!!!!

    November 11, 2010 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  15. emma

    When there is no clear evidence for "intent" of a slightly misspelled Lisa Murkowski, how can a legal claim such as Miller's carry any sense of jurisprudence?

    November 11, 2010 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  16. Sasha

    I thought that Alaska law states that the voter MUST spell the name of the write-in candidate correctly. What is this 'intent' nonsense?

    It's apparently a widely-held but mistaken assumption. So long as a person a reasonably determine whom the vote was intended for, that's all that matters and with misspellings like Lisa Merkowski, Lisa Murkowskee, or Lisa Murcowski it's not that hard to determine who the vote is for.

    November 11, 2010 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  17. Tulsa

    What a sleazball.

    November 11, 2010 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  18. Anonymous

    VA Teacher- Intent means what the voter means to do. You, like all of us, live in states where an "X" can be a signature. Surely someone trying to spell "Murkowski" should be given the benefit of the doubt if it is within a letter of two of being correct.. If the name was Smith or Jones it would be different.
    Aside from that- shouldn't elections about what people want- not legal technicalily?

    November 11, 2010 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  19. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I don't care how Murkowski is spelled it still isn't close to spelling Millers name no matter how many times or ways you look at it. You can't even reverse it to spell Miller's name, he's just lost and that's all there is to it.

    November 11, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  20. neil pharr

    Miller is un-American in wanting to throw our ballots that are clearly meant for Lisa M. Typical of Republicans, I must say.

    November 11, 2010 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  21. Lets Be Fair

    In Alaska, do they use those ballots that you color in with a marker? I'd suggest Murkowski's lawyers need to review those ballots and see how many of them had only PARTIALLY filled that circle when the machine registered it as a vote for Miller. The machine shouldn't be allowed to count a ballot if you didn't EXACTLY fill in the entire circle including if you colored BEYOND the circle. Those votes need to be thrown out ... along with some of those in Alaska from what in my opinion appears to be a very corrupt Tea Party up there.

    November 11, 2010 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  22. WA teacher

    For the record – most state that have tests with written student responses accept all possible – and possibly amusing – misspellings of the answer. If they didn't, our scores would be very low indeed. Why have one standard for education and another for for politics? Grin and bear it.

    November 11, 2010 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  23. ThinkAgain

    Come on – only an idiot would think this is a vote for someone other than Lisa Murkowski!

    Give it up, Miller! You are a brown-shirt, hypocritical, lying fascist who has absolutely NO BUSINESS going to Washington to represent the rock you crawled out from under, let alone Alaska!

    (Now, even THAT should be clear enough for Joe the Nimrod!)

    November 11, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  24. WA teacher

    States with written responses on state tests accept all possible variants of the word. If they didn't, it would be even more difficult to make AYP.

    November 11, 2010 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  25. Paul from Phoenix

    Whatever. Murkowski is a cry baby loser who is acting like a spoiled brat. If she wins, then I will send money to her opponent in 6 years no matter who it is. Murkowski is what is wrong with not only politics but society in general today.

    November 11, 2010 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
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