ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A fierce ballot-by-ballot fight loomed Wednesday in the Alaska Senate race as lawyers and election monitors prepared to descend on the state capital and haggle over how many voters validly penned in the name of Sen. Lisa Murkowski in her historic write-in bid.

The overseer of Alaska’s elections told The Associated Press that the counting of write-in ballots will begin Nov. 10, and a decision could come a few days later.

As of Wednesday, write-in votes had 41 percent; GOP nominee Miller had 34 percent; and Democrat Scott McAdams had 24 percent. The margin between write-ins and Miller was about 13,500 votes. At question now is how many of the voters who cast ballots for a write-in candidate did so for Murkowski, and just as important, penned in her name in a legally valid way.

The eventual outcome will be significant not only for Murkowski and Miller but also for former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who emerged in the waning days of the campaign to rally support for Miller. A loss by Miller in Palin’s home state could be seen as evidence of her having marginal impact on voters here amid the spotty record of the dozens of candidates she backed nationwide on Election Day.

As for the tally next week, ballot counters will use discretion in determining voter intent but all counters must agree on whether a ballot counts, said Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who oversees Alaska elections. If a disagreement emerges, a state attorney will be asked for an opinion.

The last word may not come until well into December, since Dec. 4 is the deadline to request a recount; Dec. 9 is the deadline for an election contest to be filed in state court.