From Sean Cockerham in Juneau --
Update, 5:18 p.m.
We just received the full results of today's write in ballot count, and it is looking positive for Lisa Murkowski's campaign.
The Division of Elections reports that it went through the write-in ballots for nearly 20 percent of the precincts in Alaska today.
More than 89 percent of the write-ins were unchallenged for Murkowski.
There were another 8.5 percent of the ballots that were challenged by Miller campaign observers but Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai ruled they should be counted for Murkowski. Those challenges could end up being decided in court.
Miller campaign observers successfully challenged only 1.44 percent of the 19,203 ballots that were counted throughout the day.
There ended up being 164 write-in votes for people other than Murkowski.
Two people wrote in Joe Miller.
Update, 4:49 p.m.
Some of the ballots being challenged by Miller campaign observers appear pretty clearly to be correctly spelled "Lisa Murkowski," with the oval filled in. Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said she's seeing that happen "a lot."
I asked Miller campaign observers about it, and they said there is no intent to challenge ballots that are properly filled out.
They said that their challenges are based on spelling, legibility and if there might be something added to the ballot line (like someone who writes in "Lisa Murkowski-Republican.")
Update, 3:26 p.m.
Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney likes what he's seeing. "So far things look really good for us," said Sweeney, who is here in Juneau monitoring the ballot count.
Over 89 percent of the write-in ballots counted so far are unchallenged for Murkowski. An additional 8.9 percent of the ballots were challenged by Miller campaign observers but then accepted by Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai.
Miller needs to keep about 12 percent of the write-ins from going for Murkowski.
Miller spokesman Randy DeSoto said he's hopeful the courts will throw out the ballots challenged by Miller observers but accepted by the Division of Elections. The Miller campaign has filed suit trying to keep misspelled votes from being counted. "We'll see how this all plays out," DeSoto said.
Update, 1:46 p.m.
The first batch of numbers is out and they show 89 percent of the write-ins counted so far were perfect for Lisa Murkowski.
Out of 7,638 write-ins counted just 67 wrote in someone other than Murkowski.
The Division of Elections says 6,804 votes were unchallenged for Murkowski, representing 89.08 percent of ballots counted.
Another 678 of the ballots were challenged but the challenge was overruled by the Division. Those are considered to be "challenged but counted," and will be reviewed in the expected recount with the courts having the final say.
There were only 89 successful challenges of Murkowski votes. That represents just 1.17 percent of the ballots counted.
There was one write in vote for Joe Miller.
Somebody named Sid Hill received five write in votes. That puts Hill in second place to Murkowski among the write in voters.
UPDATE: Hill may be the familiar road-side activist who was arrested after a scuffle with security guards in August at the Alaska State Fair.
Update, 1:03 p.m.
I just spoke to Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, who told me today's count is going much slower than expected.
She said the counters have made it through about 31 precincts and had hoped to finish 129 precincts by the end of the day.
"I don't think we're going to get through them," Fenumiai said.
Fenumiai said that means the count of write-in ballots could go on for five days. The Division of Elections had hoped it would be three days.
Update, 12:49 p.m.
Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees Alaska elections, said the count of write-in ballots appears to be going smoothly up until this point. “Unless directed otherwise by the courts we will continue counting write-in ballots today," Campbell said.
Joe Miller has filed suit in federal court trying to get the state to stop counting ballots with what the Division of Elections calls “minor misspellings” of Lisa Murkowski’s name. Miller argues state law is clear that misspellings shouldn’t be counted and that the state shouldn’t be weighing “voter intent.”
Campbell, speaking to reporters in Juneau today, said he was unconvinced.
“I have been consistent from the beginning in stating that minor misspellings of a candidate’s name will be counted. That continues to be my position today and we are proceeding with the ballot count under that direction,” Campbell said. “We have a number of instances where the Alaska courts have weighed in on this issue in favor of not disenfranchising voters.”
Those court cases, however, were not about write-in ballots. A court has never ruled on whether voters can misspell write-in ballots in Alaska and still have the vote count.
“The state of Alaska has never had an experience like this, with so many write-in votes,” Campbell said.
Here's what the law says:
"A vote for a write-in candidate, other than a write-in vote for governor and lieutenant governor, shall be counted if the oval is filled in for that candidate and if the name, as it appears on the write-in declaration of candidacy, of the candidate or the last name of the candidate is written in the space provided."
Update, 12:15 p.m.
There have been questions from the ballot observers about the criteria Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai is using to rule on the Miller campaign challenges of Murkowski ballots.
Here's what Fenumiai told me:
"If I can pronounce the name by the way it's spelled, that's the standard I'm using."
Update, 11:42 a.m.
The counting has continued throughout the morning here in Juneau.
Chip Thoma, observing for the Alaska Democratic Party, tells me that around 98 percent of the write-in ballots cast appear to be for Lisa Murkowski. Roughly 10 percent of those are being challenged by the Miller campaign on spelling grounds.
But Thoma said the Division of Elections is overruling 90 percent of those challenges. The Miller campaign than re-challenges. Those ballots will get another review during the expected recount (with the courts having the final say.)
Thoma said he was struck by the large percentage of write-ins that were perfectly cast for Murkowski, with the oval filled in and her first and last names spelled correctly.
"She did an effective job," Thoma said of Murkowski's campaign effort.
Miller campaign spokesman Randy DeSoto is here and doesn't seem too concerned. He said he thinks the process is going well.
Update, 10:27 a.m.
It varies by table and election observer how many ballots are being challenged. In one table, counting a Douglas Island voting precinct, of the 282 Murkowski votes 13 were challenged.
Elections Director Gail Fenumiai took a look and ruled that all but two of those should be counted for Murkowski -- put in a category of "counted but challenged."
Fenumiai ruled that ballots spelled "Misskowski" and "Morcowski" should not be counted. The Murkowski campaign observer objected to that decision and it will be reviewed.
There were also write-in ballots for "Frank Morcowski" and "Gwen" that were, of course, not counted for Lisa Murkowski.
There were similar results a table that was counting a Mendenhall Valley precinct. There were 322 write-ins for Murkowski.
The Miller campaign challenged 28 of those and Fenumiai overruled the challenge on all but five of those. One challenge overturned was for a ballot that said "Lisa, Murkowski."
Update, 9:58 a.m.
Chip Thoma of Juneau, who is here observing for the Alaska Democratic Party, tells me that the Miller campaign observers appear to be challenging about 10 percent of the write-in ballots.
"Most of them are minor misspellings," Thoma said.
He said the misspellings tend to be in the first syllable of Lisa Murkowski's name. Some people wrote "Mercowski" or "Mircowski."
Thoma said most people appeared to have written in both Murkowski's first and last names, although he saw one vote for "Nancy" Murkowski (Lisa's mother.)
Thoma said the Democratic Party decided to observe the count just to make sure it goes smoothly, even though the battle is between Republicans Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller.
The count of write-ins to decide Alaska's Senate race has started in Juneau, with observers from the Joe Miller and Lisa Murkowski campaigns watching closely as the ballots are sorted.
There are 15 tables with two election workers each going through the ballots.
Each table has two observers in front of it, one from each campaign.
Attorneys from both camps are also walking from table to table and observing, including Ben Ginsberg, a top lawyer for George W. Bush during the Bush vs. Gore 2000 recount in Florida. He's here for the Murkowski campaign.
Many Alaska and national media are gathered at the old Alaska Litho building in Thane outside of downtown Juneau for the count. The warehouse-like building has stood empty and for sale but was converted into counting headquarters.
It's not clear when we'll get the first results. Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said some results might be provided during the day -- or she might release them this evening.
More than 90,000 write-in ballots are to be opened here over the next few day to see what name was written and how it was spelled. Joe Miller currently has 11,333 fewer votes than the write-ins and the question is how many of them are for Lisa Murkowski. Miller has filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to stop the Alaska Division of Elections from counting ballots where Murkowski's name is misspelled.
Here's how the count works:
There are five boxes in front of the ballot counters. The first one is for ballots that aren't for any write-in candidate. The second is for blank ballots, or one the oval isn't filled in.
The third box is for ballots where the oval is filled in, the voter correctly spelled "Lisa Murkowski," and there is no challenge from either campaign. The Murkowski camp hopes there are enough ballots in the third box to win outright.
The fourth box is the one at play in Miller's lawsuit. It's for ballots where the oval is filled in and the "name written appears to be a variation or misspelling of Murkowski or Lisa Murkowski."
The fifth box is for ballots where the oval is filled in but the voter wrote the name of someone other than Lisa Murkowski.