"No" votes took the early lead over "Yes" votes in the epic battle over Measure 4.
The proposed law pitted salmon against mining in a multimillion-dollar ad war that inundated Alaskans for months, and confused many of them.
With about a third of the votes counted at press time, the Ballot Measure was losing. But the early returns were coming mostly from urban areas, with much of the rural vote still to be counted.
The ballot measure would enact a new law prohibiting mines from discharging harmful amounts of pollution into salmon streams and drinking water.
The Ballot Measure fight pitted the state's entire mining industry against the foes of the controversial Pebble copper and gold mine prospect in Southwest Alaska.
Though it is aimed squarely at Pebble, Measure 4's consequences for that project - and mining in Alaska, in general - remain unclear and may need to be ironed out in court if voters pass it.
Regulators said Measure 4 won't require any revisions to their regulations. Its proponents said the law is very simple: mines will not be allowed to pollute salmon streams.
But its opponents say it is rife with unclear language and would damage the state's entire mining industry, not just Pebble.
Some advocates of Measure 4 said that if the proposal loses, it might be viewed as approval by Alaskans of Pebble, making it harder for them to fight the prospect.
But many voters interviewed at polling places on Tuesday said they were confused about the proposed law's consequences and felt that the expensive ad war had muddied the issue.
$10 MILLION WAR
Fund-raising by the two sides for TV, radio, print, mail and other advertising had hit at least $10.6 million this week.
The two sides drafted volunteers on Election Day who vastly outnumbered the usual poster-waving candidate supporters at major intersections in Anchorage.
Others stood proudly wearing in their mining or commercial fishing gear. One guy beat on a drum while "Yes on 4" workers pumped signs and waved flags at passing drivers.
Interviewed at the polling stations, Anchorage voters said they felt caught in the middle of two Alaskan icons - fishing and mining.
"I thought it was excessive on both sides. It seemed like a big screaming match," said Seth Miraglia, a Bristol Bay gillnet fisherman who lives in Anchorage.
He said he voted "Yes," hoping that a Measure 4 victory would block Pebble, which he sees as a potential threat to his future income.
Anne Young, at Mears Middle School, said she grew up commercial fishing. Even though she isn't thrilled about Pebble, she voted against Measure 4.
"It's kind of overdoing it because we already have laws in place to regulate mining," she said.
"I'm hoping I'm not making a mistake," she added.
"Clean water? Jobs? Tell me what it really says," said Charles Pilch, who voted at Mears Middle School.
Once he got in the booth and read the actual text, he decided to vote no.
The fight over Measure 4 turned into one of the most expensive political battles in state history.
Pebble foes, including Anchorage millionaire Bob Gillam and the Americans for Job Security - a secretive, Republican-oriented group in Virginia that doesn't identify its members - contributed nearly $3 million to back Measure 4.
Gillam disclosed giving $570,000. The Americans for Job Security disclosed giving $1.2 million to the "Yes" campaign, but it also funded "issue" ads in the form of mailers and radio spots. The cost of those ads was not disclosed.
The state's mining industry and its supporters raised nearly $8 million to fight Measure 4.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.
By ELIZABETH BLUEMINK