An atypical election day headlined by a “vote for me twice” congressional race (in the words of one candidate) arrives Tuesday following plenty of confusion and (perhaps) more than the usual hijinks even by Alaska standards, both of which are likely to continue since election officials say it’ll be a couple of weeks before results are known and all of the serious contenders will advance regardless to November’s general election.
The election is attracting global attention due to its national significance and news-making candidates, and a scan of the coverage might lead a person to believe things such as U.S. House contender Sarah Palin is competing against U.S. Senate incumbent Lisa Murkowski. They are, of course, running in separate congressional races.
“Ever since (Palin) was picked as a vice-presidential candidate I’ve gotten jokes from family out of state about whether we ride moose to school,” Heather Kruse, 31, a Wasilla medical supply store employee, told U.K.’s The Guardian. ““It’s pretty cool to be recognized, I guess.”
Toss in speculative headlines that are wildly contradictory, such as Palin either having a very good or virtually no chance of being Alaska’s next congressperson, and it’s little wonder the online pundit and social media reactions are piling up.
Below is a collection of vital, interesting and simply strange details about the primary election. The hub for all things official about polling locations, checking absentee ballot status, results and more is at the Alaska Divisions of Elections website at https://www.elections.alaska.gov.
When and where to vote: Polls are open from 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Juneau’s 13 polling locations are the UAS Recreation Center, Auke Bay Ferry Terminal, Glacier Valley Baptist Church, Shepherd Of The Valley Lutheran, Mendenhall Valley Public Library, Nugget Mall, State Of Alaska Library Archives Museum, Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, Juneau Tlingit Haida Community Council, Alaska Electrical Light & Power, Mendenhall Mall, Juneau Fire Station and Douglas Public Library.
What people are voting for: The highlight race is a special ranked choice race for Alaska’s lone U.S. House seat, in which voters will choose a candidate to fill the remainder of the late Don Young’s term. Voters will also have a say in the pick-one primary where the top four finishers regardless of political party will advance to the general election. There are three candidates on the ballot to fulfill Young’s term and 22 candidates on the primary ballot. All three candidates in the special general race are also running in the primary.
The other major races are the primaries for U.S. Senate with 19 candidates on the ballot and governor with 10 listed candidates. Residents will also vote in the primaries for all house seats in the Alaska State Legislature and half of the 20 state senate seats (including Juneau’s), although all of the local races are essentially moot since only one of the three incumbents is facing a challenger and all candidates on the ballot will advance to the general election.
Early voting numbers suggest strong turnout: The more than 20,000 absentee ballots cast as of last Wednesday was double the total absentee tally during the entire 2018 primary, according to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
The in-person voting process: Paper ballots fed into counting machines. State officials have gone to extensive lengths to explain their security and post-vote random audit measures.
Do I need voter ID? Yes (but…). Acceptable forms of ID include a state Voter Registration Card, official state photo ID, military ID, birth certificate, hunting or fishing license, or a current utility bill, government check, bank statement, paycheck or other government document containing the voter’s name and current address, according to the Division of Elections. But the division also states “if a voter does not have identification and is not personally known by an election official the voter must vote a questioned ballot.”
Can I wear my MAGA (or anti-MAGA) cap to the polls? Alaska law prohibits political persuasion within 200 feet of any entrance to a polling place during the hours the polls are open. This means that there may not be any discussion or display or campaign items for candidates or issues appearing on the ballot at that polling place.
Any public election watch parties happening locally? Not so much, it seems. Some candidates/political entities are hosting such events in Anchorage. Perhaps the first real ones in Juneau of the “post-Covid” era (even though the virus is still very much present) will occur in November when there’s more drama.
When the results will be known?: The Division of Elections plans to publish its first results at about 9 p.m., with additional updates during the evening. But since those won’t include many of the absentee ballots that can be sent by mail until 5 p.m. Tuesday, along with questioned ballots, the winners in key races may not be those in the lead on election night.
When will the results be certified?: Aug. 31 is the deadline for overseas absentee ballots sent on or before election day to arrive, so Sept. 2 is the target date for the state to certify the results. The state will release periodic updates of ballot counts during the interim period, so practically speaking it may be known before the certification date which “final four” candidates are advancing in the congressional and governor’s primary races.
But thanks to the state’s new ranked choice voting the winner of the special U.S. House race might not be known until at least Aug. 31 even if one candidate seems to be winning beforehand, according to state elections officials.
Wait, what? Election officials will be able to see who voters rank 1-2-3 on the special election ballots, but they won’t tabulate anything but the first-choice votes until the Aug. 31 deadline and then only if no candidate tops 50%. So if Palin finishes with 40% of the first-choice votes on that date, and Republican Nick Begich III and Democrat Mary Peltola finish with 30% each, then the second-choice tallies are added to each candidate. Polling suggests Palin’s 65% negative approval rating (far exceeding the other two candidates) suggest one of the other two candidates is most likely to ultimately emerge the winner.
Any other “X” factors in that race? Tara Sweeney, a Republican, announced late last week she filed to be an official write-in candidate for the special election. Sweeney finished fifth during the special election primary in June, but ended up in de facto fourth place when independent Al Gross surprisingly dropped out afterward and thus gave a huge boost to Peltola. Sweeney’s subsequent legal challenge to be put on the ballot as the fourth candidate was unsuccessful.
But at least the results will truly and officially be known Sept. 2? Not necessarily since that’s merely the target date for certification. More importantly, candidates have five days after certification to request a recount and 10 days after certification to file a challenge — both of which are occurring at rather high rates nationally this year.
And when all’s said and done the same House candidates are going to have this same fight again in November? Most likely. Also, while the special election winner isn’t likely to do much official duty in Washington while all of the U.S House is running for reelection this fall, some small bits of business may give the short-term incumbent some extra visibility (for better or worse).
Is the same “encore” happening for the other major election candidates? Pretty much. As with the U.S. House race, the key thing in the governor and U.S. Senate primaries is who will be the fourth candidate to join three candidates in each race who are seen as certain to advance.
What do those races look like? For the U.S. Senate, Murkowski’s primary challengers are Republican Kelly Tshibaka and Democrat Patricia Chesbro. Pundits have stated the fourth finalist from the remaining 16 contenders may be anybody’s guess, although frequent candidate Edgar Blatchford (who got 33% in the 2016 Democratic primary) and local hopeful Shoshana Gungurstein (who’s gotten significant coverage the past week for her Hollywood acting past) may be among the ones to watch.
In the governor’s race incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Democrat Les Gara and independent Bill Walker are considered essentially certain to advance. The fourth spot is seen as going to one of two reasonably well-known Republican state politicians pitching themselves as more conservative than Dunleavy: Wasilla state Rep. Christopher Kurka and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.
Media headlines nationally and internationally about Tuesday’s election:
– “Alaska vote tests Trump’s influence, Palin’s bid and a new election system” (Washington Post)
– “Liz Cheney and Lisa Murkowski Face Their Voters” (The New York Times)
– “Ranked-Choice Voting Makes a Joke of Alaska Politics: Santa Claus isn’t coming to Congress, but that’s the only good result from this electoral experiment” (Wall Street Journal)
– “With new Alaska ballot, Murkowski may survive Trump’s wrath in primary” (Roll Call)
– “Will Cheney And Murkowski Survive Their Trump-Backed Primary Challenges?” (FiveThirtyEight)
– “Alaska election tests weight of Sarah Palin’s celebrity – and Trump’s sway” (The Guardian, U.K)
– “The return of Sarah Palin: how the Tea Party star is plotting a comeback” (The Telegraph, U.K.)
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org.