All three incumbents likely clinched final victory in Alaska’s statewide elections Friday, as the Alaska Division of Elections updated results with thousands of additional absentee, questioned and early ballots from this fall’s general election.
Final unofficial results will not be available until 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the division implements the state’s new ranked choice sorting system, but voting trends have made the results clear in most races.
With 264,994 votes counted, incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy had 50.3 percent of the vote for governor, well above his leading challenger, Democratic candidate Les Gara, who had 24.2 percent. Independent candidate Bill Walker had 20.7 percent and Republican challenger Charlie Pierce had 4.5 percent.
Friday was the deadline for absentee ballots sent from within the United States to arrive and be counted. Ballots are counted by the elections division’s five regional offices, and by the end of the day Friday, most offices had finished counting all ballots that had arrived through Wednesday.
A few hundred ballots sent from international destinations could be added to the count if they arrive by Nov. 23, but it appears all but certain that the remaining ballots are too few to alter the governor’s race, where Dunleavy has a margin large enough that ranked choice sorting will not take place.
In races where no candidate earns at least 50 percent of the vote, the lowest finisher is eliminated, and voters who supported that person have their votes redistributed to their second choices. That process continues until only two candidates are left, and the person with the most votes wins.
In the U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, no candidate is expected to finish with more than 50 percent of the vote.
For U.S. House, Democratic incumbent Mary Peltola, Yup'ik, had 48.7 percent of the vote, ahead of Republican challengers Sarah Palin (25.8 percent) and Nick Begich (23.4 percent) and Libertarian challenger Chris Bye (1.7 percent).
While the combined totals of Palin and Begich would surpass Peltola’s tally, a special election in August showed the number of Begich voters willing to support Palin with second-choice votes was too small for her to overtake Peltola. Pre-election opinion polling showed little change in opinions since August.
In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski led all challengers with 43.3 percent. Her main challenger, Republican Kelly Tshibaka, led on Election Day, but Murkowski erased that deficit by the end of the day Friday with late-counted absentee and early votes. By the end of the day Friday, Tshibaka had 42.7 percent, trailing by 1,658 votes out of 259,747 cast in the race.
When ranked choice voting begins, Murkowski is expected to receive the majority of the second-choice votes cast by supporters of the third-place finisher, Democratic candidate Patricia Chesbro (10.4 percent). Many supporters of the fourth-place finisher, Republican Buzz Kelley (2.9 percent), are expected to back Tshibaka, but those votes are not expected to be sufficient for Tshibaka to win.
This article was first published in the Alaska Beacon.