Rep. Don Young's lead over Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in the Republican primary for Alaska's seat in the U.S. House swelled to 239 votes early this morning with the count of absentee and questioned ballots from the last three House districts, all in Anchorage.
Altogether, elections workers reviewed and counted about 25,000 questioned and absentee ballots on Friday. The first batch of returns posted on the division of elections Web site about 5:15 p.m. showed Young's 151-vote lead shrinking to about 129 votes. But as the night wore on, his margin expanded to 172 votes, and the last returns posted about 12:30 a.m. had Young with 48,006 votes to Parnell's 47,767 --the 239 vote margin.
A third Republican in the race, state Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, had 9,856.
Still to be counted are an unknown number of absentee votes cast and mailed by voters from overseas. Those will be accepted until Wednesday. Division of elections director Gail Fenumiai said an estimate of the number of such ballots already received may not be available until Monday.
About 250 sample ballots from Petersburg and Wrangell -- cast when precinct workers there ran out of the regular Republican candidate ballots -- were included in Friday's tally, Fenumiai said.
A recount is possible.
Neither Young nor Parnell could immediately be reached in the early morning hours today.
Young attended a fundraiser in Roslyn, Wash., Friday night, according to campaign spokesman Mike Anderson.
In a statement e-mailed about 7 p.m. Alaska time, Young said his continuing hair-thin lead was encouraging but not the last word. He said, however, that he is campaigning as if he will be the party's candidate in the Nov. 4 general election, where Democrat Ethan Berkowitz awaits.
"While I am pleased to hold the lead at this stage of the process, it appears as if we won't know the final results for another two weeks," Young said in the statement.
Parnell's campaign also e-mailed a statement Friday afternoon, before the vote updates began.
"Given that the current difference in votes is so small, anything can happen and we remain cautiously optimistic about the results," Parnell's statement said.
Earlier in the day, Anderson said the Young campaign was hoping to see the 18-term incumbent's lead open up significantly with the absentee count.
"The worst thing that could happen is if the number stays close," Anderson said.
A recount is possible if the race remains close after the overseas ballots are counted next week. Under state law, the expense of the recount would be paid by the state if the difference between Young and Parnell is within 0.5 percent of the overall vote for the two. In this case, that would be around 500 votes.
The losing candidate, or 10 qualified voters, could still request a recount if the difference is more than that, but would have to put down a $10,000 deposit on the cost, according to the law. The deposit can be refunded if the recount changes the outcome, or under certain other conditions.
Anderson said Young plans to return to Washington, D.C., Monday as the congressional session resumes. A number of congressional votes are scheduled before the Nov. 4 election, and Young will have to balance campaigning with those responsibilities, the spokesman said.
The U.S. House primary race was the only contest on the ballot where the outcome was in doubt pending the absentee ballot counting.
Reporter Don Hunter can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4349.