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The logistical challenges of a write-in campaign

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. –

No one has been elected to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate since Strom Thurmond in 1954, but there's rampant speculation in Alaska about whether Sen. Lisa Murkowski could regain her Senate seat in November with such a bid.

Murkowski hasn't said yet whether it's an option she intends to pursue – although many of her advisers and allies continue to say she's still considering it.

If she does do it, Murkowski first has to overcome a logistical hurdle that the other candidates don't have. Republican Joe Miller, Democrat Scott McAdams and even Libertarian David Haase will have their names on the ballot; Murkowski will not.

The historical precedent for write-in campaigns isn't great. The website Smart Politics did an analysis using information from the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Alaska Division of Elections. Over the past 26 election cycles dating back to 1958, the website found that there were eight general election write-in campaigns for statewide office in Alaska. Of those, two were from the U.S. Senate. The best any candidate did, the website found, was Wally Hickel in his 1978 write-in bid for Alaska governor. He got just over 26 percent of the vote.

If she decides to go for it – and she must give the Division of Elections a letter of intent no later than five days before the election – voters will have to write her name in. They'll also have to check the bubble next to her name to signify they're voting for a write-in candidate.

There's been some speculation that people could use stickers or even rubber stamps to put Murkowski's name on the ballot. Not so, said Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai. Stickers would muck up the tabulation equipment, and rubber stamps simply wouldn't be allowed in the polling place.

If the number of write-in ballots counted is higher than any of the candidates actually on the ballot, the Division of Election examines them to see who was written in, and tallies up those votes to see who won. It's the same if the write-in tally is within .5 percent of the first place finisher.

As Sean Cockerham has written before, there could be wide latitude in how her name is spelled on the ballot. As long as the Division of Election determines that people intended to cast a ballot for her, it could count. That means that "Lisa M." would be likely to count, Fenumiai said, since it would be abundantly clear they intend to vote for the Lisa who has declared a write-in candidacy in the race. Fenumiai said she'd have to speak with the Department of Law for an opinion on whether "Lisa" alone would count.

Finally, one other thing to note: As a write-in candidate, Murkowksi would not have to give up her party registration as a Republican, even though she would not be running on the GOP ticket. So even as a write-in candidate, she could remain registered as a Republican in Alaska.

It's unclear what the means for her role on the Senate Republican leadership team – although that's likely to be in flux anyway. Congress plans little substantive work between now and the Nov. 2 election, and the outcome of that election could shift control of the House or Senate to Republicans. If that happens in the Senate, lots of people will be scrambling for power.

However, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who runs the National Republican Senatorial Committee tasked with electing GOP senators, wasn't particularly warm in an interview with the website Politico. "It’s hard to see how you stay as part of the Republican leadership if you are no longer running as a Republican," Cornyn said in the interview. "I think that’s pretty much the end of that."

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