Murkowski's Fate Will Be Tied to Court Decisions

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Yesterday, the Alaska Supreme Court handed Lisa Murkowski's Senate campaign a major victory by ruling that voters will be able to view lists of write-in candidates at their polling places. Alaska's Democratic and Republican Parties had teamed up earlier this week to sue the state's Division of Elections for providing lists to voters who asked for them. A lower court judge ruled against the lists Wednesday morning, but the state Supreme Court blocked that decision later in the day.

For Alaskans headed to the polls on Tuesday, this means that they will be able to request a list of write-in candidates (it won't be posted at polling sites). The list will have Murkowski's name alongside two other write-in candidates', and party affiliations will not be listed.

Murkowski's team had filed a brief in defense of the write-in lists. This victory may help her bid in the short run, but it will surely increase her legal troubles down the road. In fact, the state Supreme Court planned ahead for this by requiring that the Division of Elections sort out the ballots of voters who view a list of write-in candidates--a preparation for an appeal of the court's decision, if not broader legal action after the election.   

As polling in Alaska (which, it's worth noting, is notoriously unreliable) shows Murkowski pulling ahead with 34 percent, Democrat Scott McAdams holding his ground with 29 percent, and Republican Joe Miller falling behind with just 23 percent, the state is bracing itself for a protracted vote-count. If neither Miller nor McAdams wins a plurality, as this polling suggests may happen, the state will begin counting write-in ballots from across the enormous state. The Division of Elections will review these ballots by hand, and its methods will almost surely be subjected to multiple lawsuits. This process will take a long, long time--possibly weeks or even months.

If enough write-in ballots for Murkowski are thrown out during the initial vote-count or in the ensuing legal battles, it is possible that either Miller or McAdams could win without a plurality of the vote. So while polling is rosy for Murkowski, the complexities of Alaska's election landscape makes this race the most unpredictable of this election cycle.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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