Update: Kawasaki’s lead is 173 votes, not 186 as first reported by Division of Elections workers.
Scott Kawasaki appeared to clinch the only Democratic “flip” of the 2018 election in Alaska on Friday when he took a 173-vote lead over Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, as absentee ballots were tallied in the race for Senate District A.
Kawasaki, who has represented House District 1 in the Alaska House of Representatives, left the House to challenge Kelly for Senate this year. Kawasaki trailed after Election Day, but a count of early and question ballots on Tuesday gave him a lead.
Though early-arriving absentee ballots favored Kelly, late-arriving ones favored Kawaski, allowing him to preserve his advantage.
The number of outstanding ballots in the race is less than Kawasaki’s lead today, meaning the Democrat has won the race, barring some other factor.
The race for Kawasaki’s old seat in the House appears to remain uncertain. Republican Bart LeBon led Democrat Kathryn Dodge after Election Day, but Dodge took a 10-vote lead after Tuesday’s count. LeBon regained the lead in Friday’s count. He now holds a five-vote advantage.
Some votes remain to be counted: Wednesday is the deadline for absentee ballots mailed from international addresses to arrive in Alaska. If those ballots were postmarked on or before Election Day, they will be counted.
In addition, the race is well within the margin for a state-paid recount. After the recount, either candidate could escalate the matter to the Alaska Court System.
In 2016, the primary race for House District 40 was decided in such a manner. Democrat Benjamin Nageak was challenged by fellow Democrat Dean Westlake. Westlake led Nageak by four votes after the initial count, then by eight votes after a recount. Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi overturned that result and awarded the race to Nageak. The Alaska Supreme Court took up a subsequent appeal and declared Westlake the winner.
This year’s races in Senate District A and House District 1 have been closely watched because of their wider implications.
At the end of Election Day, the former House Republican Minority appeared to control 21 seats in the 40-person Alaska House of Representatives. That’s the bare minimum needed to control the House, and it includes LeBon.
The former coalition majority in the House lost one independent member, Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, and one Republican member, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, on Election Day. Democrats gained no seats held by another party.
The 20-member Senate is more firmly in the hands of a Republican-led majority, but if Kelly’s loss is certified, Democrats would hold seven seats in the body. If they join with moderate Republicans, the resulting coalition majority could have enough support to control the chamber.