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Write-in ballot count begins Wednesday in Alaska's Senate race

Election officials were set to begin poring over more than 92,500 write-in ballots in the Alaska Senate race on Wednesday. Republican nominee Joe Miller's vote total was trailing the total for write-in votes. Senate incumbent Lisa Murkowski's campaign believes most of those votes are for her.

This could also be important because 160 other write-in candidates jumped into the race, at least some of them at the urging of a conservative talk radio host who backed Miller. One of those candidates is a Lisa M. Lackey - which could complicate things if voters decided to simply write "Lisa," as Murkowski is known by many supporters, or "Lisa M."

On Tuesday night, after 22,000 absentee ballots had been counted, Miller had closed the gap with Murkowski by nearly 1,900 votes. Although it was a modest gain, it cheered about 50 supporters who gathered Tuesday night at the half-dismantled campaign office at the Nugget Mall for a pep talk by the candidate.

"It's been a good day," he told reporters afterward. "We've gained, and we're going to continue to gain in the absentee count. . . . People throughout the state are excited; they're still out there fighting to make sure their votes are counted."

The write-in count will be conducted by 30 "election officials who have worked for the division for a number of years," said Gail Fenumiai, director of the state's Division of Elections. They will be sitting in pairs at plastic tables. They will be joined not only by lawyers but by trained volunteers for both campaigns who will be permitted to observe the proceedings to confirm their fairness - or raise alarms if something goes wrong.

Officials expect the process to take days.

There may not be much of an appetite here for a prolonged battle, even among Miller's most die-hard supporters. That's in part because many of them believe he has a political future even if defeated, and they don't want him tarnished by an ugly battle.

"We need to pursue our legal avenues where they're obvious, but I don't think Joe needs to be looked at like he's dragging this out," said Eddie Burke, a local tea party activist and talk radio host. "If you do, you look like Al Gore and hanging chads."

Others worry that a long court fight would leave Alaska without full representation for months in Washington. That could be problematic for a far-flung state that receives millions in federal aid.

Bethany Marcum, 44, a tea party activist from Anchorage, said she is concerned about the issues the Miller campaign has raised but is hoping for a smooth outcome so whoever wins can get right to Washington.

"I have a concern that we won't have a legislator when the session begins," said Marcum, who described Murkowski as nice and professional but too liberal for the state. "If we feel like the votes are counted and it turns out Senator Murkowski got more votes, then okay."

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