Judge rules against Miller on trial location; hearing set for Wednesday

A state judge in Alaska on Monday denied the location-change request in Republican Joe Miller's lawsuit challenging the results of Alaska's Senate election, citing concerns over ballot security. 

That the case will be heard in Juneau rather than Fairbanks, where Miller wanted the trial, is a minor victory for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whose lawyers argued against shifting the venue.  

An initial hearing in the case is set for Wednesday.

Murkowski was declared the winner over Miller earlier this month after some two weeks of counting write-in ballots in the race. The incumbent leads Miller by more than 10,000 votes — a margin greater than the number of ballots Miller is contesting in court — but the Tea Party favorite has refused to concede. 

In deciding the case would be heard in Juneau, Judge Douglas Blankenship said moving the ballots could "further risk the integrity of the election." 

Miller is challenging more than 8,000 write-in ballots that his lawsuit argues do not meet the standard required under Alaska law to be counted for Murkowski. Miller claims state elections officials applied an arbitrary voter intent standard to count votes that either misspelled Murkowski's name or contained some other irregularity. 

After questioning the state's counting and security procedures throughout the process earlier this month, the Miller camp seized on the concern over ballot security in a statement Monday. 

"We all paused when the state Attorney General admitted to having security concerns about the ballots. We simply assumed the same security measures used to transport the ballots from Fairbanks (and from throughout the state of Alaska) to Juneau after they were cast would be used to transfer ballots from Juneau to Fairbanks, if that were necessary," Miller said in a statement. "But there was a noticeable quiet in the courtroom when the state’s attorney questioned their own ability to secure these ballots. We don’t know what to make of this at the moment."

Murkowski wants to intervene in the case, but Blankenship did not decide Monday whether or not she could. The senator has warned that Miller's lawsuit could leave the state without full representation in Congress come January. If she is not sworn in Jan. 3, Murkowski said she stands to lose her seniority.  

Certification of the election results was originally set to take place Monday, but Miller was successful in convincing a federal judge to issue a temporary injunction preventing state elections officials from certifying the results.