Mystery ballot could sway control of Alaska Legislature

A recount is scheduled for Friday after the Fairbanks race between Kathryn Dodge and Bart LeBon was previously certified as a tie

This Sept. 13, 2012 photo shows Kathryn Dodge, a candidate for the Alaska House District 1 seat in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Sam Harrel | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner File)

This Sept. 13, 2012 photo shows Kathryn Dodge, a candidate for the Alaska House District 1 seat in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Sam Harrel | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner File)

It’s a sign that every vote does count.

A single mystery ballot found on a precinct table on Election Day but not counted then could decide a tied Alaska state House race and thwart Republican efforts to control the chamber and all of state government.

The ballot arrived in Juneau last Friday in a secrecy sleeve in a bin with other ballot materials. Officials were investigating its origins and handling before deciding whether to tally it.

“People kept calling it close,” Democrat candidate Kathryn Dodge said of the race for the House seat in Fairbanks. “I just didn’t know it was going to be squeaky.”

A recount is scheduled for Friday after the race between Dodge and Republican Bart LeBon was previously certified as a tie, at 2,661 votes apiece. The uncounted ballot appears to be marked for Dodge.

The outcome will have big political implications. If LeBon wins, Republicans will control the state House in addition to the state Senate and the governor’s office.

If Dodge wins, the House would be split 20-20, between Republicans and the remnant of a coalition that is largely comprised of Democrats but includes two Republicans.

For the candidates, it’s been a three-week rollercoaster ride marked by lead changes before the tie was declared and by the appearance of the mystery ballot.

Elections director Josie Bahnke said she wants to ensure that every vote cast by an eligible voter is counted.

Dodge, a former member of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, said it appears the ballot was not put through the scanner on election night. She believes it’s valid and should be counted.

LeBon, a retired banker, said he has questions about the handling of the ballot and expects a legal challenge from whoever loses the recount. He said questions about other ballots also could be raised during the recount.

An attorney for Dodge on Thursday asked Bahnke to include a ballot in the recount that had the ovals next to both candidates filled in but an “X” on the LeBon oval. The ballot wasn’t counted for either candidate, but attorney Patrick Munson said it should go toward Dodge’s total.

If the race remains tied after the recount and possible legal challenges, state law calls for a winner to be determined “by lot.” A coin toss decided a tied House race in 2006.

“I’ve come too far to have a coin toss settle this,” LeBon said.

The current House speaker, Democrat Bryce Edgmon, won the 2006 primary through the coin toss on his way to being elected to the chamber later that year.

He said he didn’t recall the race being stressful, pointing out that he also had a good job in the fishing community of Dillingham to focus on if he had lost the race.

On the day of the coin toss, he said his son fell sick and had to be taken to the emergency room, which occupied his attention much of the day.

Remembering the coin toss is exciting, but the experience is “not something I would wish for anybody to go through,” he said.


• This is an Associated Press report by Becky Bohrer.


This July 18, 2018 photo shows Bart LeBon, a candidate for the Alaska House District 1 seat in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Eric Engman | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner File)

This July 18, 2018 photo shows Bart LeBon, a candidate for the Alaska House District 1 seat in Fairbanks, Alaska. (Eric Engman | Fairbanks Daily News-Miner File)

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of July 6

Here’s what to expect this week.

Looking like a gray turtle, an automated mower cuts grass in front of Thunder Mountain Middle School with boxes stacked in a classroom window beyond. (Laurie Craig / Juneau Empire)
Random adventures of robo-mowers…now performing again this summer at Juneau’s schools

Four pillow-sized bots resembling turtles with tiny razor-sharp blades provide class for the grass.

Disney Williams (right) orders coffee from Lorelai Bingham from the Flying Squirrel coffee stand at Juneau International Airport on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
New coffee stand at airport stirs up heated dispute about having proper authorization to operate

Fans of Flying Squirrel Espresso praise location, hours; officials say FAA violations could be costly.

Nano Brooks and Emily Mesch file for candidacy on Friday at the City and Borough of Juneau Municipal Clerk’s office in City Hall. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)
City and Borough of Juneau regular municipal election candidate filing period opens

So far, most vie for Assembly District 2 seat — mayor, Board of Education, and District 1 also open.

Killah Priest performs at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center in December 2019. (Photo courtesy of Lance Mitchell)
Killah Priest sets new record with Alaskan artists on ‘Killah Borealis’

Wu-Tang Clan rapper seeks to lift Alaskan voices and culture in his return performance to Juneau

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, July 10, 2024

For Wednesday, July 10 Attempt to Serve At 10:06 a.m. on Wednesday,… Continue reading

Commercial fishing boats are lined up at the dock at Seward’s harbor on June 22. Federal grants totaling a bit over $5 million have been awarded to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to help Alaskans sell more fish to more diverse groups of consumers. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Federal grants to state agency aim to expand markets for Alaska seafood

More than $5M to help ASMI comes after Gov. Dunleavy vetoed $10M for agency.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds up the omnibus crime bill, House Bill 66, after signing it at a ceremony Thursday at the Department of Public Safety’s aircraft hangar at Lake Hood in Anchorage. At his side are Sandy Snodgrass, whose 22-year-old son died in 2021 from a fentanyl overdose, and Angela Harris, who was stabbed in 2022 by a mentally disturbed man at the public library in Anchorage and injured so badly that she now uses a wheelchair. Snodgrass and Harris advocated for provisions in the bill.Behind them are legislators, law enforcement officers and others. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Goals for new Alaska crime law range from harsher penalties for drug dealers to reducing recidivism

Some celebrate major progress on state’s thorniest crime issues while others criticize the methods.

Most Read