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Posted at 6:57 PM ET, 12/28/2010

Murkowski takes first step toward certification as Alaska Senate race winner

By Felicia Sonmez

Updated: 10:50 p.m.

The director of Alaska's Division of Elections has certified Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) as the winner of the state's Senate race, paving the way for Alaska's governor and lieutenant governor to sign the paperwork this Thursday and bringing Murkowski's battle against attorney Joe Miller (R) close to an end.

Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai told The Fix Tuesday night that she certified that Murkowski, who ran a write-in campaign to hold onto her seat after losing to Miller in the Republican Senate primary, took 101,091 votes to Miller's 90,839 in the Election Day count.

The final certification of the results is slated for Thursday afternoon Eastern time; the paperwork will then be hand-delivered to Washington, according to a spokesperson for Gov. Sean Parnell (R).

Fenumiai's certification of the vote came hours after a federal judge dismissed Miller's legal challenge to the ballot-counting process in the race.

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline wrote in a 14-page ruling that he would not second-guess the state Supreme Court, which had previously ruled that Miller's arguments against the state's handling of the write-in ballot count were moot.

"Generally speaking, the Alaska Supreme Court is the final expositor of Alaska law," Beistline wrote. "That must be the case here. It concluded that Miller's interpretation of the statute 'would erode the integrity of the election system,' and held that 'voter intent is paramount.' Under the facts presented, this Court declines to second-guess the highest Court of the state."

Beistline's ruling lifted the state's injunction against the certification of the Election Day results, clearing the way for the state Division of Elections to formally declare Murkowski the winner.

Murkowski's camp welcomed the decision in a statement Tuesday night.

"It feels great to be in a position where the state can now officially declare Senator Murkowski the winner of the election," Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said. "We are now just one step away from this election's conclusion. We anticipated Judge Beistline's order for immediate certification and applaud his recognition that Joe's claims were entirely without merit."

Miller said that he was disappointed with the court's ruling and that he and his legal team "are evaluating the ruling and determining what our next step should be."

"The U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause presented the most significant constitutional issue," Miller said. "Specifically, should the courts be required to follow the legislature's standard for the selection of U.S. Senators or create their own? My legal team believes that the clear language of the Election Clause as well as precedent support our claims."

The judge's ruling followed Miller's announcement this week that he would not oppose state officials' certification of the results.

With the legal battle wrapping up, the final undecided race of the 2010 midterms is coming to a close. Barring any other last-minute legal obstacles, the final certification of the results this week will mean that Murkowski will retain her Senate seniority and committee assignments and will be ready to be seated alongside the other members of the 112th Congress on Jan. 5, 2011. It also means that Murkowski will become the first senator to win election as a write-in candidate since Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) in 1954.

By Felicia Sonmez  | December 28, 2010; 6:57 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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