State calls for election changes in wake of US Senate race

JUNEAU -- The state is recommending more than 30 changes to election procedures following the high- profile legal battle over last year's U.S. Senate race, including a law allowing an elections official to disregard misspellings in a write-in candidate's name if voter intent can be ascertained.

That issue was a major point of contention in the 2010 Republican race between U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and tea party challenger Joe Miller. Murkowski mounted an unprecedented write-in campaign after losing the GOP primary to Miller.

The state counted ballots with misspellings of Murkowski's name toward her tally, citing prior case law. But Miller argued the law was clear and the ballot needed to include the candidate's last name or name as it appears on the declaration of candidacy. He lost his fight in court, with the state Supreme Court calling the issue of voter intent paramount, as it has done for decades.

The recommendations were made in a report released Friday by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell's office. He said at a news conference that none of the recommendations would have changed the Senate race's outcome.

The report is the result of an internal review of the state's handling of the election by Treadwell's office, the Division of Elections and the Department of Law.

Among other things, the report recommends legislation to allow people to run as write-ins without filing a declaration of candidacy; to extend the time allowed for early voting; to move up the primary date; and to make it easier for overseas voters and members of the military who aren't in Alaska to vote.

It also calls for improving ballot security and training for election workers, and doing data matches between voter registration and Department of Corrections information to better safeguard against voting by felons who have lost the right to vote.

Miller's campaign raised concerns about voting irregularities and the possibility that ineligible felons voted.

The report, which the state had hoped to release March 4, comes with just over two weeks left in the legislative session. There are several bills working their way through the process aimed at clarifying the rules for counting write-in ballots and improving ballot security.

The Division of Elections is working with the Legislature as it weighs election- related legislation this session, Treadwell said.

One of a lieutenant governor's few legal duties is to administer state election law.