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Miller won’t block Murkowski’s Senate certification

- Associated Press - Monday, December 27, 2010

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Republican Joe Miller said he won't stand in the way of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski's certification as the winner of Alaska's U.S. Senate race, but he vowed to continue his legal fight over the state's handling of the vote count.

Mr. Miller's announcement late Sunday paves the way for Mrs. Murkowski — a write-in candidate after losing the Republican nomination to Mr. Miller — to eventually be declared winner of the race.

Election officials determined Mrs. Murkowski had the most votes in the November election but were barred from certifying a victory by a federal judge, who issued a stay to give the courts time to rule on Mr. Miller's claims the vote count was mishandled.

Sunday's decision means Mr. Miller won't file any motions to stop the court from lifting the stay.

Mr. Miller said he wants to ensure Alaska has full representation when senators are sworn in for the new term of Congress on Jan. 5.

"This decision will allow Alaskans to focus on bringing fairness and transparency to our elections process without distraction of the certification issue," he said in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline, who is hearing Mr. Miller's federal court challenge, must still decide whether to lift his stay before the state can move ahead with certification. There was no immediate word on when that might occur.

But Judge Beistline already indicated he was likely to lift the stay, saying Alaska should have a senator in place when Congress' new term begins, even if that means later having to replace that person when all legal disputes eventually are resolved.

There was no immediate comment from Mrs. Murkowski or state election officials early Monday.

Unofficial results showed Mrs. Murkowski leading Mr. Miller by 10,328 votes, or 2,169 if ballots challenged by Miller observers during a tedious, weeklong hand count were excluded.

She has declared victory and called on Mr. Miller to concede, saying no one but the lawyers benefit from a drawn-out legal battle.

Back and fourth court challenges followed. On Wednesday, the Alaska Supreme Court refused to overturn election results favoring Mrs. Murkowski.

In an at-times strongly worded 4-0 opinion, the high court said it found "no remaining issues raised by Miller that prevent this election from being certified."

After the ruling, the state said it intended to ask Judge Beistline to lift the stay. He gave Mr. Miller a Monday-morning deadline to decide whether to pursue remaining issues further in federal court.

Mr. Miller said late Sunday that after "careful consideration and seeking the counsel of people whose opinion I respect and trust," he decided not to fight certification but to press on with his case.

"We want the end result of this legal action to be for the people of Alaska to not only have full faith in the outcome of this race but a confidence in the manner in which elections will be conducted in our state in the future," he said. "Election integrity is vital."

Mr. Miller contends the state violated the election and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution in its handling of the vote count.

The law calls for write-in ballots to have the ovals filled and the candidate's last name or name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy written in. Mr. Miller believes the state should be held to a strict reading of that law, and his attorneys argued that spelling mattered.

The state, pointing to case law, used discretion in determining voter intent and allowed for ballots with misspellings to be counted toward Mrs. Murkowski's tally.

Attorneys for the state argued that Mr. Miller's interpretation would disenfranchise voters. The state Supreme Court agreed and called voter intent "paramount."

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