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Candidate's name spells trouble on Alaska's ballot forms

As votes were counted in America's tumultuous midterm last night, nowhere was there more scope for chaos in the complex counting process than in Alaska, where election supervisors were warning that declaring a winner in the US Senate race may not take a few hours, but perhaps days or even longer.

The problem is the Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski and her exotic name. After losing the Republican primary contest to the Tea Party candidate Joe Miller, she decided to keep running as a "write-in": her name did not appear on ballots last night but voters were free to write it down anyway.

Officials said that the law gives them 15 days to certify a winner. The last polls suggested that Mr Miller, Ms Murkowski and the Democrat candidate, Scott McAdams, were in a dead heat.

But there is worse: after the courts in Alaska ruled last week that election workers could hand voters a list showing the names of write-in candidates as they enter the voting booths, Miller supporters rushed to register themselves as last-minute runners just to dilute whatever advantage the lists might give to Ms Murkowski. Suddenly there were well over 150 write-in candidates in the race.

Any sign of difficulty in determining the winner will doubtless activate a series of legal manoeuvres. Indeed, legions of lawyers were ready to swing into action. Someone, it seems, wants to make a mockery of the democratic process in America's final frontier.

The Alaska race was destined for drama from the start. Mr Miller is supported by Sarah Palin, who has been feuding with the Murkowski family from the days when she was a small-town mayor. By this morning, the director of Alaska's Division of Elections, Gail Fenumiai, should have some idea of how difficult reaching a final verdict is likely to be. "We'll hire election workers to hand-count the ballots if we need to," she said.