Alaska Division of Elections Begins Counting Absentee, Questioned Ballots

After a week of collecting and reviewing absentee ballots, workers at the Division of Elections are now running 17,000 of those uncounted votes through machines. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez is at the Anchorage office observing the process.

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Lori: So, going into today, Democratic Senator Mark Begich was 8,000 votes behind Dan Sullivan, his Republican challenger. And in the governor’s race, Republican Sean Parnell trails unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker by 3,000 votes. Have we seen these numbers move at all?

We got an update a little after 4pm, and there should be another update later this evening. The 8,000 votes that have been added to the tally really didn’t move the needle much at all. Sullivan very, very slightly increased his lead. Now Begich has to close a gap that’s closer to 9,000. Meanwhile Parnell closed his gap … but by a few dozen votes. That’s well short of what he needs to overcome Walker, or even get within the range of demanding a recount.

Lori: What’s the scene there like?

It’s like being in the world’s most bureaucratic zoo. You have four election workers at tables who have been working non-stop, and then you have a chain barrier in front of them, where reporters and political types are watching them. The newspaper photographers all have their cameras, and I’m there with my recording gear, and it’s like these people are on exhibit. I kind of expected the whole thing to seem a little more automatic, but it is literally just people pushing thousands and thousands of sheets of paper.

Lori: The votes that are being counted today are only about a third of the ones that are left outstanding. Where are they coming from?

Kenai, Ketchikan, the western part of Fairbanks, Eagle River, and parts of the Mat-Su are seeing the most votes counted today. With the exception of the Fairbanks district, those are areas that went pretty heavily for Republican Dan Sullivan. Parnell also fared relatively well in those areas. So, this is a batch of absentees that could even more Republican than the outstanding ballots as a whole. There are some districts, like Juneau, which have a large number of outstanding ballots and that favor Begich and Walker that are only getting a portion of their ballots counted today. Also, even though they only make up 4,000 of the outstanding ballots, very few of those the rural areas of the state are being counted, because the Division of Elections hasn’t received the voter registers from these district. The Begich campaign has talked up those ballots and wants those to be counted before the race is called.

Now, the reason why some districts are coming in before others is pretty much logistical. I talked with elections director Gail Fenumiai this afternoon, and she says it’s basically a first come first serve sort of system.

Lori: So where do we go from here?

It’s kind of a start and stop process. After counting ends tonight, there won’t be any more votes tallied until Friday. That process could then continue into next week.