The State of Alaska wants Joe Miller's lawsuit over the Nov. 2 election's ballot count moved from Fairbanks to Juneau, and it wants the case to move along at a speedy clip, according to court papers (PDF) filed late Wednesday.
By 5 p.m. it had at least part of its wish: Superior Court Judge Douglass Blankenship has agreed to expedite his decisions on whether to change venues and also on whether to let Lisa Murkowski join the case.
The state wants the issue of venue decided within two working days after the Thanksgiving holiday -- no later than Monday, Nov. 29. And it is urging expediency in the case as a whole, arguing that any delays impeding the Jan. 3, 2011 swearing in of Alaska's next U.S. senator serve only to hurt the people of Alaska.
"Time is of the essence," wrote assistant attorneys general Sarah Felix and Michael Barnhill, who are handling the case.
Meanwhile, the state's incumbent senator and the candidate the Alaska Republican Party has declared the clear winner -- Lisa Murkowski -- is trying to also have a voice in the case. She's filed to intervene on her own behalf, since the ballot counting issues Miller is raising directly affect her. Like the State of Alaska, Murkowski is also urging the judge that matters in the case must be decided quickly.
"If she cannot be sworn in on (Jan. 3, 2011) the State of Alaska will suffer serious, and irreparable, harm," argued Scott M. Kendall, one of her attorneys.
If the election isn't certified in time, Alaska's Senate seat will be vacant and "there are numerous critical issues facing our nation and Alaskans deserve to have full representation in the United States Senate," Kendall wrote in his motion to speed up a decision on whether to let Murkowski join the case.
But that's not the only downside. Murkowski could lose her senate seniority, dropping from 43rd to 100th, and, "if she is not sworn in as a member, may not be eligible for re-election as ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (or of any subcommittee on the Appropriations Committee)," Kendall argued. "The effect on Alaska from the loss of these positions would be very harmful and could be long lasting."
Senate committees organize themselves shortly after the start of the new Congress, and if Murkowski or any senator isn't properly seated in time, they may miss out on key assignments.
As for the issue of whether to hear the case in Fairbanks or Juneau, the state and Murkowski have said Juneau is the better choice.
The state argues that the 258,713 ballots cast in the 2010 election are securely stored in Juneau, its Division of Elections is headquartered there and much of its staff lives there, as do the dozens of part-time workers brought in to help with the count. Holding court in Fairbanks will unnecessarily force the state to spend money on travel for witnesses, not to mention finding and paying for a secure storage place for the ballots. "While the Division of Elections would do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of the ballots while en route to Fairbanks (likely at great cost to the Division), accidents happen in Alaska," the state's attorneys wrote. "There is no need to jeopardize the security of the ballots and registers by transporting them at this point."
The state also believes that Juneau is the proper place to hear the case since it's where the ballot counting occurred.
"The ends of justice will be promoted by transferring this case to Juneau. Public expense will be saved, and ballot security ensured," wrote Felix and Barnhill.
The state expects Miller to continue his fight in federal court, where Miller's election-related legal battles first began, after the state court case is decided, causing further delay to certification. The state is pushing for the state court case to wrap up in time for the federal case to also be heard in advance of certification of the election.
Contact Jill Burke at jill(at)alaskadispatch.com.