Most uncounted ballots will be tallied Wednesday

90,000 VOTES: Stevens vs. Begich isn't the only race in question.

November 10, 2008 

Look for the needle to move on Alaska's landmark U.S. Senate race and other tight contests this week, with the Division of Elections planning to tally more than half of the uncounted ballots Wednesday.

For days, the count has been frozen. Sen. Ted Stevens leads Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich by about 3,000 votes with roughly 30 percent of the ballots remaining to be counted, including:

• 61,000 absentee votes.

• More than 20,000 questioned ballots.

• 9,500 early votes.

Of those, at least two-thirds of the absentee votes and nearly all the early votes are expected to be counted Wednesday, said Division Director Gail Fenumiai.

Election workers began poring over questioned ballots Monday in Anchorage, a process that will likely continue through the final count, which is expected Nov. 19.

Meantime, absentee votes are still arriving in the mail and precincts are sending in more questioned ballots.

"We're getting so many of them every day," Fenumiai said.

Begich and Stevens aren't the only candidates watching the numbers. On Monday, Rep. Bob Roses, R-Anchorage, and challenger Pete Petersen peered over the shoulders of election workers in Midtown as a review board double-checked questioned ballots.

Questioned ballots are votes people cast on Election Day someplace other than their designated polling place. That might include an out-of-towner who wanted to vote for president, or someone who simply stopped by the wrong precinct.

Roses, the Republican incumbent, is trailing Petersen by 136 votes in the East Anchorage and Muldoon race, and every ballot counts. He stood with his hands in his pockets as election workers compared each ballot to voter rolls. Petersen held a clipboard, marking whether each vote would count toward his race. The candidates could see the voter's party, but not who they chose.

The board rejected outright only a handful of votes, like the one from a voter who checked a box saying that, no, he or she wasn't a U.S. citizen, said Petersen's campaign manager, David Dunsmore.

Monday morning, seven Begich supporters, three Stevens supporters, Republican Party chief Randy Ruedrich and Rep. Bob Buch had all signed up at the Anchorage election headquarters to watch workers sort through the stacks of ballots.

It can be a grueling process with thousands of ballots to review by hand. " 'Mundane, anal detail' are the words you want," sai Bonnie Jack, a local political activist and observer for the Stevens camp.

As murmuring onlookers pressed closer and closer around a pair of election workers, Jack loudly shushed the crowd. One of the workers raised her pen in a gesture of quiet thanks.

For now, more than 90,000 votes remain uncounted. More than 224,000 votes were cast on Election Day. At stake is whether Stevens ends his 40-year career in the Senate or Begich begins a fresh one.

Both campaigns asked donors for money to monitor the ballot review and counting. If the candidates end up within either 20 votes or half a percentage point of each other, either candidate or a group of 10 registered voters can request a recount without paying the $15,000 fee, Fenumiai said.

An automatic recount only occurs in an exact tie.

According to the Division of Election's projections, the election will end up drawing the second most voters in an Alaska presidential election, next to 2004, but far from the blockbuster numbers you might expect in an election that saw Stevens found guilty in a federal court just days before the voting and Gov. Sarah Palin running for vice president.

Pundits at home and across the country said the turnout numbers smelled fishy. Fenumiai said Monday that there's no evidence of fraud or irregularities.

"I can't speculate as to why people just didn't show up to vote," she said.

The state is counting ballots differently this year, after learning that 26 people voted twice in the August primary election, mostly by casting absentee ballots then showing up on primary day to vote again. That's why none of the absentee ballots will be counted until this week -- after election workers check to make sure no one is double-dipping.

So far, the state has identified a "handful" of people who tried to vote twice, Fenumiai said.

She's asked the Department of Law to investigate. "They could be punished for up to a class C felony for this."


Find Kyle Hopkins' political blog online at adn.com/alaskapolitics or call him at 257-4334.


Races hang in the balance

With a little more than 90,000 ballots left to count:

U.S. SENATE: Sen. Ted Stevens (R) leads Mayor Mark Begich (D) by about 3,257 votes.

STATE HOUSE (District 19): Pete Petersen (D) leads Rep. Bob Roses (R) by 136 votes.

STATE HOUSE (district 27): Rep. Bob Buch (D) leads Bob Lewis (R) by 67 votes.

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