Elections: Sullivan and Young win
The Alaska Division of Elections began counting roughly 156,000 ballots last week. Much of the count was done on Tuesday, November 10, with 70,000 ballots tallied on the first day. But because the Division accepts ballots until November 18 —as long as the ballot was postmarked on or before election day— the count continued throughout the week.
As of Monday, November 16, 98 percent of votes have been counted and roughly 7,400 ballots remain. Since the count will be complete this week, results are still unofficial because the deadline for election certification is November 25.
As expected, these absentee and mail-in votes, which comprise about 45 percent of ballots cast in the general election, went mostly to independent and Democratic candidates. This has shifted race results that initially favored Republicans. Unlike what occurred in the U.S. Presidential election, the so-called “blue wave” that followed the “red mirage,” was not enough for Democratic nominees to triumph in congressional races. The biggest change was the vote on Ballot Measure 2. The initiative was trailing in election day results, but after accounting for absentee ballots, votes in favor of Ballot Measure 2 surpassed those against.
On Wednesday, November 11, the Associated Press called the races for United States President, U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative for Republican candidates Donald Trump, Dan Sullivan and Don Young.
Before absentee ballots were accounted for in Alaska, Trump garnered 61 percent of the Alaskan vote and was winning by nearly 30 percent to Democratic nominee and president-elect Joe Biden, Jr.’s 33 percent. After the tally of absentee ballots updated on Sunday, Trump was still solidly ahead, but his lead diminished to about ten points.
Initially, roughly 30 percent of the vote also separated candidates in the U.S. Senate race. Prior to the inclusion of absentee ballots, incumbent Sullivan was leading the Democratic nominee, Al Gross, by 57,866 votes. This margin diminished to about 44,000 votes once absentee ballots were counted. Throughout the week after the election, and even after the AP announced that Sullivan had secured a second term, the Gross campaign remained optimistic that a victory was still within reach. However, Gross conceded the race, which was one of the most expensive in Alaskan history, last Friday. Congratulating Sullivan, Gross wrote, “Even though we have passionate policy disagreements on what is best for Alaska, what is important now is that all Alaskans come together after a free and fair election.”
The race for the U.S House of Representatives saw incumbent Young leading Democratic nominee Alyse Galvin, an independent, by a similar margin. Before absentee ballots were counted, Young was up by 50,325 votes. Galvin closed this lead, but ultimately Young won by roughly 31,498 votes. The AP called Young’s 25th victory on Wednesday, and Galvin conceded on Friday. Young issued a statement thanking Alaskans for voting. “I look forward to serving another term as Congressman for all Alaska,” Young wrote just a day before announcing that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Galvin, in her concession statement, thanked her campaign and encouraged unity. “It is now time for all of us to come together to address the huge issues we face today starting with coronavirus,” she wrote.
Perhaps the biggest shakeup of the past week was the outcome of Ballot Measure 2. The initiative, which would change the way Alaska conducts its elections, was trailing by 24,113 votes prior to the count of outstanding ballots. However, after absentee ballots were counted, votes for the measure surpassed those against.
Should the measure maintain its lead, Alaska would be only the second state to utilize ranked choice voting in elections. Already implemented in Maine, ranked choice voting was also on the ballot in Massachusetts, but did not pass. Ballot Measure 2, also known as the Better Elections Initiative, has central components: it would replace Alaska’s primary system with a top-four primary, implement ranked-choice voting in general elections, and would require greater transparency of campaign donors.
Proponents argue that the ranked choice voting would also make elections more inclusive, providing candidates from platforms other than the larger Republican and Democratic parties a better chance at advancing in elections. Because ranked choice voting favors moderate candidates who can appeal to a broad base, it would also discourage hyper-partisanship and negative campaigns.
The other ballot measure did not fare as well. An oil tax initiative, Ballot Measure 1 was initially trailing by 55,186 votes. Absentee ballots did not sway the result much; even with these ballots votes against the measure outnumbered those for it by roughly 52,730.
While candidates in other contests had a suspenseful past two weeks, the races for House District 39 and Senate District T, still unofficially, had winners on election day. Despite outstanding absentee and early voting ballots, incumbent Democrats Neal Foster and Donny Olson were both leading their challengers by a margin that surpassed the number of yet-to-be tallied votes. Absentee ballots slightly widened both Foster and Olson’s margins of victory.
Division of Elections Spokesperson Tiffany Montemayor said that the count went smoothly, even with the influx of absentee ballots. “Staff worked long hours to get over 160,000 ballots counted post-election night. With the counting process not beginning until November 10, that is a phenomenal accomplishment,” said Montemayor. She added that the division has already counted more absentee ballots than they did in the entire 15-day period following the 2016 general election.