JUNEAU, Alaska — If wrestling with a variety of spellings for write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski's name isn't enough, officials counting ballots in Alaska's U.S. Senate race are also dealing with such oddball entries as "Donald Duck," ''Elmo" and "Revolt."
Those ballots were quickly tossed Friday even as a count showed the Republican incumbent maintaining a healthy 90 percent of the write-in vote.
Saying she feels "pretty good about the direction" the tally is headed, Murkowski expressed confidence that she'll pull off an improbable write-in victory over Republican nominee Joe Miller.
So far, the state has recorded 98,565 write-in votes and 87,517 votes for Miller. Murkowski has been getting about 90 percent of write-in votes. Another 7.6 percent have been apparent votes for Murkowski that have been challenged, generally by observers for Miller for things like penmanship issues and misspellings. [See who donated money to Murkowski.]
The hand count is scheduled to go through the weekend and run well into next week to determine if Murkowski got enough write-in votes to win.
Murkowski's seeking to make history and become the first U.S. Senate candidate since 1954 to win a write-in campaign. She mounted her outsider bid after losing the GOP primary to Miller in August.
In a Friday interview with The Associated Press, on the third day of the write-in ballot hand count, Murkowski said she's offended and angered by some of the challenges that observers for Miller are making to ballots for her.
While Miller's campaign maintains it's only challenging ballots that don't meet the strict letter of the law, including those with misspellings, Murkowski believes it was the intent of Alaskans in those cases to vote for her, and accused Miller of desperately grasping at straws.
Miller is suing to ensure the state is held to the law, which calls for write-in ballots to have a write-in oval filled in and either the candidate's last name or the name as it appears on their declaration of candidacy scrawled in — in this case, either "Murkowski" or "Lisa Murkowski."
There were plenty of variations of Murkowski's last name, including Murkowsi, Murkowsky, Merkowski. The state has been using discretion to discern voter intent, pointing to prior case law as their basis in doing so. Murkowski supports this, saying she wants the voices of all Alaskan voters heard.
Chip Gerhardt, a Miller observer and attorney sent to the state by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, noted that Murkowski focused much of her campaign on telling Alaskans how to properly cast ballots for her, urging them to fill in the oval and write "Lisa Murkowski." She even had wristbands made to that effect.
He said Miller observers are being told to challenge ballots with misspellings, extra words, improperly filled in ovals and her name written below the write-in line.
The campaign is ceding nothing, believing it has a shot at making this a tight race if Miller gains ground once absentee votes are tallied and if their write-in objections are upheld.
"We're just going to see it through to the end," Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said.
The Miller campaign sued in state court Friday, seeking access to lists of registered voters from certain precincts around the state. The campaign wants to count and inspect the signatures of those who signed up to vote "to ensure there was no possible fraud, mistake, irregularity or inconsistency."
It also has set up a voter fraud hot line. And Floyd Brown, the strategist behind the infamous Willie Horton ads in the 1988 presidential campaign who also is described as a Miller adviser, raised the specter of voter fraud or voting problems but offered little in the way of proof to support those claims.
Murkowski wasn't sure whether the election's results would end up decided by a court. She said that decision will depend on the advice Miller gets from his advisers and rest with "whether or not Miller recognizes that, mathematically, this doesn't add up."