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Federal judge lifts stay, clearing way for Murkowski certification

From NBC's Pete Williams
A federal judge has lifted a stay that blocked the state from certifying the winner of the state's disputed U.S. Senate election. The state is now free to certify Lisa Murkowski as the winner, and she can join other senators in taking the oath of office Jan. 5th in Washington.

Federal Judge Ralph Beistline also dismissed Republican candidate's Joe Miller's lawsuit, rejecting Miller’s claims that the state's method for tabulating write-in votes violated the federal Constitution. Miller argued that state law required voters to write in a candidate's name precisely, with no abbreviations or misspellings. He challenged the state's interpretation of the law, which allowed votes to be counted despite minor misspellings.

Last week, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the state, holding that the key to interpreting election law is preventing votes from being tossed out if a voter's intent can be determined. The state court said the law doesn't require perfection in how a candidate's name is written.

In his ruling Tuesday dismissing Miller's lawsuit, Judge Beistline called the Alaska law "poorly drafted," and added that, "Wisdom would suggest that the Alaska legislature act to clarify it to avoid similar disputes in the future." Nonetheless, he said the Alaska Supreme Court is the final authority on the meaning of the state's laws.

"This court declines to second-guess the highest court of the state," he said.