Trailing legislative Democrats pull ahead in Alaska ballot count; Sullivan, Young keep seats

a sign that reads "polling place here"
A voting sign at Anchorage’s Hanshew Middle School on Election Day. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

A number of Alaska Democratic legislative candidates made up ground on their opponents Tuesday, as election officials released long-awaited tallies of nearly half of the estimated 150,000 ballots that remained uncounted.

A citizen’s initiative to overhaul Alaska’s elections, Ballot Measure 2, also gained ground in Tuesday’s count, while national outlets declared Republicans the winners of the races for president, U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

The Associated Press called Alaska’s presidential race for GOP President Donald Trump, the U.S. Senate race for incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan and the U.S. House race for incumbent Republican Don Young.

Read full election coverage from Alaska Public Media

Alaska’s uncounted ballots are mostly absentees, but they also include early votes and provisional ballots that are cast when poll workers have questions about a voter’s eligibility. The state’s decision to delay counting for a week after Election Day — which officials said was needed to protect against double-voting — has prompted confusion, speculation and impatience both inside Alaska and nationally.

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While Republicans held onto their big leads in federal races as roughly 70,000 ballots were counted Tuesday, the results shifted an array of state-level races, including the one for Ballot Measure 2.

The election initiative would replace party-specific primary elections with a single race in which the top four candidates advance and institute a system of ranked-choice voting for the general election. It trailed by 24,000 votes after Election Night, and Tuesday’s count sliced that margin to less than 13,000. If the remaining uncounted ballots follow the same trend — which is not guaranteed — the results will be very tight.

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Among the legislative races that flipped in Tuesday’s count: Democratic Party-endorsed Independent Calvin Schrage jumped into the lead in the hard-fought race for an Anchorage Hillside House seat, pulling ahead by 400 votes over Republican Rep. Mel Gillis, who was appointed to the seat last year by Governor Mike Dunleavy.

Longtime East Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski pulled ahead of his Republican challenger, Madeleine Gaiser, moving from 121 votes behind to nearly 2,000 votes ahead.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski (Skip Gray/360 North)

In Fairbanks, two House Democratic incumbents who trailed after Election Night counts, Grier Hopkins and Adam Wool, both pulled ahead of their GOP challengers. Hopkins now leads Keith Kurber by 1,200 votes, or roughly 11%, while Wool leads Kevin McKinley by 500 votes, or 6%.

In the race for the East Anchorage state House seat currently held by Republican Gabrielle LeDoux, Republican David Nelson, who beat LeDoux in the GOP primary, now leads Democrat Lyn Franks by just 115 votes, or some 2.5%. That’s down from a 400-vote lead Nelson had at the start of the day.

In another East Anchorage state House race, Democratic Rep. Ivy Spohnholz pulled ahead of Republican Paul Bauer by nearly 1,000 votes, after trailing by 350 in the initial count.

With more than 100,000 ballots still to count, Alaska campaigns cross fingers and crunch numbers

West Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman also pulled far ahead of his Republican challenger, Lynette Largent, who trailed by just 50 votes after Election Night. And Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck, who represents a Midtown and South Anchorage district, pulled ahead of Republican Kathy Henslee, who led by more than 500 votes after Election Night.

In other competitive legislative races, state officials counted very few votes Tuesday. Additional counts are expected Wednesday.

In the races that did flip, a Democratic surge was expected, as progressive groups and campaigns pushed supporters to vote absentee ballots — which the state did not start counting until Tuesday.