An Alaska Superior Court Judge has said he will rule by Friday on Senate candidate Joe Miller's challenge to the apparently victorious write-in campaign of incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Judge William Carey held two hours of hearings on the case Wednesday.  The state, which is defending the integrity of the vote count against Miller's challenge, asked Carey to rule by today, to allow time for any appeals and a return to federal court, which has yet to certify the election results pending resolution of the challenge.

Carey said he would try for Thursday but it may be Friday before he is ready to rule.

Miller, an attorney who ran with the backing of the tea party movement and the endorsement of Sarah Palin, defeated Murkowski in the Republican primary, but Murkowski mounted a write-in campaign and, according to the unofficial count, she defeated Miller in the general election by 10,328 votes, or 2,169 when ballots challenged by the Miller camp are excluded.

This result was reached after a weeklong hand count of the write-in ballots was conducted and observed by both the Miller and Murkowski teams.

But Miller's attorney told the court of numerous voting irregularities -- similar-looking signatures on ballots, precincts where voters were allowed to cast ballots without providing identification, and allegations about felon sex offenders being allowed to vote - that could throw doubt on enough ballots to change the election outcome.

At the same time, Miller is saying that he is pursuing the legal action based on principle.

What is vital is that the people of Alaska can trust the election process,' Miller said, adding that his campaign has stated repeatedly, all we want is for all the votes to be counted in accordance with Alaska statutes.

The Murkowski camp does not buy their opponent's idealism.

He is continuing these efforts without the possibility of winning the election, Murkowski campaign manager Kevin Sweeney said. He claims that he is acting on principles. While we are fighting for the fundamental and constitutional principle that every Alaskan's vote should count, we cannot determine exactly what principle Mr. Miller is trying to defend by seeking to take those votes out.

Alaska's other Senator, Democrat Mark Begich, jumped into the fray on Monday, putting out a statement calling on Miller to drop the lawsuit which is virtually certain to fail and could deny Alaska full representation in the Senate when the new Congress resumes in January.

It is time for Joe Miller to put Alaska interests ahead of personal ambition and allow the State of Alaska to certify Lisa Murkowski as the winner, Begich said. As many in Washington are united against securing funding for important road and public facility projects in individual states, it's vital that Alaska have both Senators putting our unique needs first and fighting for our state.

Miller responded heatedly to Begich, telling him to get back to work and stop wasting time in D.C.

Contrary to Begich's assertion, personal ambition has nothing to do with the legal issues, Miller said.  

Begich would better serve Alaska by working on a budget that does not bankrupt our country instead of fiddling away while Rome burns, Miller said.

If Judge Carey's decision goes against Murkowski, it will probably mean a statewide recount, and Begich's worry that Alaska will start the new year with only one Senator in Washington could be realized. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said he is looking at his options for dealing with the senatorial vacancy, including the possible appointment of an interim senator.

If the judge's decision goes against Miller, the Miller camp is expected to appeal, which may also delay the certification of an Alaskan senator.