Republicans came out strong in early results on Election Night in Alaska, both statewide and locally.
With preliminary tallies trickling in Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer) and Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) are leading in their respective races for reelection. Vance leads challenger Kelly Cooper 70% to about 29.7%, while Stevens leads Alaska Independence Party candidate Greg Madden 63% to 36%.
At the statewide level, Sen. Dan Sullivan is leading Dr. Al Gross, Rep. Don Young is ahead of challenger Alyse Galvin, and Alaskans are favoring President Donald Trump over Joe Biden. Alaskan’s are also favoring “no” votes on both statewide ballot measures.
Even with many Election Day ballots tallied, Alaskans won’t know the full, official results of Tuesday’s election until later this month after absentee ballots are counted. The state has received more than 110,000 absentee ballots that still need to be counted, and some races are too early to call. The target date for the election to be certified in Alaska is Nov. 25.
Some patience required
As of Tuesday, 161,217 absentee ballots and early ballots had been voted and returned statewide, according to the Alaska Division of Elections. That number includes special needs ballots, federal write-in absentee ballots, and those returned via mail, email and fax. Absentee ballots will be counted by the division starting on Nov. 10.
Some voters in the state were able to vote early and in person. Of the more than 161,000 early and absentee votes, 50,841 of them are early votes that had been cast in person before the election, according to the division. Only the early votes cast before Oct. 29 will get counted on Election Day. Any early votes cast after Oct. 29 will be counted along with absentee ballots.
Early in-person voting is not the same thing as absentee-in person voting. Absentee in-person votes will be counted along with the absentee ballots that were mailed or faxed in, with questioned ballots and with special needs ballots, again, starting Nov. 10. As of Tuesday, the division reported that 110,376 absentee ballots had been received. Those include 87,782 absentee ballots returned by mail, 14,856 absentee in-person ballots, 7,413 returned online, 29 returned by fax, 279 special needs ballots and 17 federal write-in absentee ballots. Early voting was not available on the lower Kenai Peninsula.
As of Wednesday, the state had received 4,487 absentee ballots from District 31. Of those, 1,499 are absentee-in person ballots, 2,844 are mail-in ballots, 128 are ballots returned online, five were returned by fax, and 11 were federal write-in absentee ballots.
The reason for the week-long delay before the division starts counting absentee ballots has to do with verifying them, according to Tiffany Montemayor, public relations manager for the division. To prevent duplicate voting, officials check Election Day precinct registers with absentee ballots received, she wrote in an email. Ballots are logged as received when they arrive at Division of Elections offices.
The Absentee Review Board checks ballots to determine count eligibility. They have been meeting since last Tuesday and work through next Tuesday, Nov. 10, at which point eligible ballots are opened and counted. By statute, Alaska is required to finish counting all eligible ballots no later than 15 days after Election Day. Absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can still be counted if they’re received by Nov. 13 if mailed within the United States and by Nov. 18 if mailed from outside the U.S.
Montemayor noted that because of Alaska’s size and with many communities not on the road system, returning precinct registers to the Division of Elections also takes time.
“The voting process has always been unique in Alaska, and this is just one more aspect that is unique,” she wrote. “… No matter how you cast your vote or when your vote is counted, all eligible votes will be counted. … Please assure voters that just because it may take longer to count all ballots, that doesn’t mean anything bad or wrong has happened. There are just a lot of ballots.”
Alaska isn’t alone in taking time to count ballots, Montemayor wrote, noting that counting nationwide is expected to last for days and even weeks in many states.
On Wednesday morning, the division of elections posted additional results, with 380 of 441 total statewide precincts reporting.
With all precincts reporting in District 31, Vance is leading by a wide margin with 3,711 votes compared to Cooper’s 1,571. According to division results broken down by district, Vance carried every voting precinct except for Kachemak/Fritz Creek, which Cooper carried with 305 votes to Vance’s 303.
With more than 4,000 absentee ballots to count starting Nov. 10, final results won’t be known for some time.
Reached Tuesday night, Cooper said her campaign isn’t ready to concede just yet, and will wait to see how those absentee votes affect the results.
“We knew going in that it was going to be an uphill battle, based on the makeup of our district,” she said.
Cooper said her goal was to be a petition nominee candidate and to represent undeclared voters. She noted that, based on preliminary results Tuesday night, the entire state had a big night for Republicans.
“We did the best that we could, and it’s in the voters’ hands,” Cooper said.
She said campaigning in a year so affected by the ongoing COVID-19 virus wasn’t easy and made reaching voters more difficult.
“We didn’t do any indoor large gatherings, so reaching voters face to face was a real challenge,” Cooper said. “But it wasn’t something I was willing to do differently because I really want our numbers to get down and our kids to get back in school.”
Reached Wednesday morning, Vance said she’s feels she’s in a comfortable position after Election Night, but will be waiting to see the final results.
“I think that’s a very comfortable place to be,” she said of her lead of 70.1% to 29.68%.
Vance said she felt her campaign for reelection went well.
“I tried to stay positive and focus on the issues,” she said.
Advocating for what people elected her to accomplish last time around — a Permanent Fund Dividend calculated using the 1986 formula and lower state spending — was important to her, she said.
Vance thanked her supporters, the voters, and her opponent for running.
“By engaging in the process, we’ve already won,” she said of the voters exercising their rights.
In the race for Senate District P, Stevens led Wednesday with 5,696 votes, or 63.29%, compared to Madden’s 3,279, or 36.43%. Results broken down by district show that in District 32, Stevens carried 10 out of the 14 precincts, and that he carried all nine precincts in District 31.
“Well I’m feeling really good about where we are right now,” Stevens said Tuesday night. “Of course, things can change very quickly.”
For Senate District P, which is House Districts 31 and 32 combined, the state has received a total of 7,417 absentee ballots — 4,487 in District 31 and 2,930 in District 32.
Stevens said that if the preliminary results showing Tuesday night were to hold, it would mean some big changes to both the Alaska Senate and House, which he said was surprising to see.
“Then again, it’s not over ‘til it’s over,” Stevens said.
Stevens said he was glad to see the votes reflect that at least some people resonated with his campaign, which he said has included supporting a “moderate dividend and being able to pay for the services that people need, like education and police protection.”
Stevens strived to be honest and straightforward about the state’s financial situation in his campaign, he said.
Reached by phone Tuesday night, Madden said it was a steep learning curve for his first time really running a campaign, but that he learned a lot and worked hard along the way.
“I can guarantee anyone who has been rooting for me, I didn’t know of anything to do that I didn’t do,” Madden said.
Madden said it will be good to be patient as the absentee ballots settle out over the next few weeks.
“It’s going to take a while — it may take quite a while — but it’s worth waiting to see what the exact outcome is,” he said.
U.S. Senator, 86% of precincts reporting
Dan Sullivan: 114,851, 63.50%
Al Gross: 56,399, 31.18%
John Wayne Howe: 9,283, 5.13%
U.S. Representative, 86% of precincts reporting
Don Young: 114,944, 63.86%
Alyse Galvin: 64,406, 35.78%
Ballot Measure 1, 86% of precincts reporting
Yes: 61,521, 34.83%
No: 115,123, 65.17%
Ballot Measure 2, 86% of precincts reporting
Yes: 75,324, 42.76%
No: 100,816 57.24%
Alaska House of Representatives District 31, all precincts reporting
Sarah Vance: 3,711, 70.10%
Kelly Cooper: 1,571, 29.68%
Alaska Senate District P, all precincts reporting
Gary Stevens: 5,696, 63.29%
Greg Madden: 3,279 36.43%
Sign waving and public support for local and presidential candidates increased locally in the days ahead of the election. More than 200 vehicles participated in a rally/parade to support President Donald Trump on Sunday. Organized by Damian Scheratski, the line of trucks and other vehicles began on the Homer Spit and wound its way through Homer, ending at the lot next to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Homer Maintenance Station.
The event was advertised on Facebook as a peaceful “parade to support President Donald Trump,” and all were welcome to attend. Scheratski, a Homer resident, said the parade was organized locally and separately from the rallies and parades organized to support the president that took place around Alaska and elsewhere in the country on Sunday. Scheratski said he didn’t realize the other events were planned until later.
Scheratski estimated that between 270 and 300 vehicles, from large semi-trucks to smaller cars, participated in the parade through Homer on Sunday. He organized it because he said he feels people’s freedoms of religion and speech, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, are being infringed upon.
“Our voices do matter also,” Scheratski said. “That’s what it was — voicing our opinion, our values and at the same time, our support for our president.”
Scheratski said the event was open to anyone, and that several people from Anchor Point came to participate as well as Homer area residents.
Supporters for Alaska House of Representatives District 31 candidates Kelly Cooper and Rep. Sarah Vance waved signs in Homer and elsewhere on the peninsula on Monday and on Election Day.
On the day of the election, poll workers noted steady streams of voters throughout the day, with a few of them saying their polling places were busier than they have been in recent years. Bob Neubauer, chairperson for area 370, which is the Kachemak/Fritz Creek precinct, said the Kachemak Community Center had seen almost double its normal amount of voters by about 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
“We’re over 400 now,” he said around 2 p.m. “And we normally don’t reach that until about 7 (p.m.).”
Neubauer estimated the precinct was on track to get around 700 voters by the time polls closed.
The Homer No. 1 precinct at Homer City Hall also had about 400 ballots cast around 2:20 p.m. Maryann Lyda, who has been an election worker for close to 10 years, said it had been busy so far that day. Lawrence Radcliffe, an election worker at the Fox River precinct at Kachemak Emergency Services station in McNeil Canyon, said he hadn’t volunteered before this year. However, he noted that even compared to the Primary Election earlier this year, turnout at the precinct seemed busier on Tuesday. Fox River had 188 ballots by about 1:45 p.m.
With a contentious presidential election, issues of voter suppression and intimidation have been higher in people’s minds. Several local polling locations had poll watchers on Tuesday, but election workers said they saw no issues other than the usual Election Day snafus, like making a mistake on a ballot and needing to request a new one.
Radcliffe said two voters had entered the Fox River precinct wearing hats with a candidate’s name on them, but removed them when he explained the state law that prohibits that. Lyda, too, said she was able to catch things like that early.
“The poll watchers have been great,” Lyda said.
At the Kachemak Community Center, Neubauer, who has been a poll worker for a decade, said things were very quiet and that there had been no issues with upset or confused voters.
“We have more trouble with people making mistakes on the ballot than anything else,” he said.
One Homer voter, David Milam, stuck with incumbents in the presidential and local Alaska Senate elections, but opted for challenger Kelly Cooper in the Alaska House District 31 race. Milam said he’s interacted with Cooper through his work as the site supervisor at the Homer Transfer Facility.
“I’ve dealt with her and I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from people who have been here for a while, so I did a little bit of asking around,” Milam said.
The same went for his vote for incumbent Sen. Gary Stevens, he said.
Milam also opted to support Trump for reelection, saying the decision was more about financial issues for him.
“I think he’s done an OK job so far,” Milam said. “I think that he does deserve another term. Honestly I’m one of those people who, you know the guy who’s already in there, you know. Kind of keep them there rather than having a whole new regime change.”
Among the voters heading to the polls in District 31 on Tuesday were first-time voters. One such voter was Karina Roach, 21, who went to Homer City Hall to exercise her right for the first time, alongside her mother, Kathleen Scott.
Roach said she had wanted to vote last year but that she wasn’t registered to vote on time. Since then, she got registered and was ready to go for 2020.
“Obviously it’s like the biggest year to vote,” she said. “It was the perfect time to go do it.”
Scott said she encourages young people to vote.
“One, it’s their civic duty to do it,” she said. “And I believe the younger generation, their voice matters.”
“It lets their voice be heard,” Roach chimed in. “Especially during this time. It needs to be heard.”