Midterm Elections: First ballot counts are in
By Peter Loewi
Results of last week’s midterm elections held many surprises nationwide as a forecasted red wave didn’t quite materialize.
It appears that Democrats held on to their razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate, while about 20 U.S. House district results have not been finalized yet, but Republicans are expected to gain House majority by a tight margin.
Alaska’s election had high stake races on the ballot, as the governor’s seat, a U.S. Senate seat and the lone Alaska U.S. House seat were up for election, as well as the ballot question if the state shall hold a Constitutional Convention.
Since Alaska has changed its election system to ranked choice voting, the final results won’t be available until November 23, when the Division of Elections will have reviewed and tabulated the ballots to include second and third choice rankings. The target date to certify the election results is November 29.
As of Monday, November 14, only first-choice votes have been counted and these unofficial results were reported by the division.
In addition to the tabulation of ranked choice voting, there are still absentee and mail-in ballots to be counted. Any ballot postmarked by election day is valid.
In total, only 36.2 percent of Alaskans eligible to vote had cast a ballot.
When all ballots have been counted, and a candidate has over 50 percent of the first-choice votes, that candidate wins outright. In the event that a candidate does not reach 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes of the people who voted for the last-place candidate are then tabulated. This process can be lengthy and can repeat multiple times if there is no winner after a second vote.
With all in-person ballots counted, Governor Mike Dunleavy appears to be heading for a straight reelection, with 52 percent of the votes. Democrat Les Gara has 23 percent and Bill Walker is in third place with 20 percent. The other clear election was the decisive vote against holding a constitutional convention: Seventy percent of voters cast a ‘no’ vote.
Ranked choice voting will play a role in deciding the Congressional delegation, where no candidate in either the U.S. Senate race or the U.S. House race got more than 50 percent plus one of the first-choice votes. Republican Kelly Tshibaka received 42.8 percent of first ranked ballots, which is a 1.5 percent lead – about 3,000 votes – over incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski, who received 44.2 percent of first-choice ballots. After eliminating write-in candidates, the next lowest number of votes went to Republican Buzz Kelley, who suspended his campaign in September to back Tshibaka. The 6,000 voters who picked him first will now have their second-choice votes counted. Since that will not lead to 50 percent for either candidate, this race will be decided by the second choice-votes of those who ranked Democrat Pat Chesboro first. Chesbro received 9.5 percent of the first-choice vote.
The same is true, although the results appear clearer, for the House, where Democrat and incumbent Mary Peltola leads Republican Sarah Palin by more than 20 percent. With 47 percent, Peltola only needs three percent plus one vote from the elimination of Libertarian Chris Bye and then Republican Nick Begich to win reelection.
In the Alaska State Legislature, Republicans look like they will have a majority in the House, but whether it will end the multiparty coalition that has led for the last five years remains to be seen. The Senate is in the same situation, with Democrats looking at having nine of 20 seats, and the potential for partnerships with moderate Republicans.
For House District 39, incumbent Neal Foster, a Democrat, was leading Alaska Independence Party candidate Tyler Ivanoff by a mere six votes. Foster received 1,573 votes, or 49.72 percent, and Ivanoff got 1,567 votes, or 49.53 percent.
Voter turnout for House District 39 was 30.8 percent, considerably below the state average.