Election Day overview and 'fashion' tips

Kyle Hopkins
Chemistry instructor and graduate student Olena Murdoch casts her ballot during early voting Monday in the student union at UAA.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Early voters visit the Division of Elections on Gambell Street in Midtown to cast ballots Nov. 1, 2010.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Travis Reyes of Denali Group sets up voting booths at the Municipality of Anchorage Planning and Development Center Nov. 1. 2010, in preparation for the general election Nov. 2.
BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News

Happy Election Day. You must be exhausted.

It's been a bloody, muddy battle in the race for U.S. Senate -- this year's title bout of Alaska politics. The match-up features a write-in comeback bid by the incumbent against two major-party primary winners in a toss-up that's raising unusual questions for voters.

Like, can you wear a temporary tattoo with a candidate's name to the ballot booth? Why is the Alaska Supreme Court involved? And just when will we know who won?

Along with the Senate fight among Democrat nominee Scott McAdams, Republican Joe Miller and write-in candidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, there's a governor's race, the entire state House and half the Senate, plus a question that would add six lawmakers to the state Legislature.

Here's a quick guide to get you through the day.

Q. Election Day fashion: What can I wear to the voting booth?

A. If it has a candidate's name on it, cover it up. State law says no electioneering within 200 feet of polling places, which includes any clothing plastered with campaign slogans.

Poll workers will ask you to turn your McAdams or Miller T-shirt inside out and tuck your Murkowski bracelet or temporary tattoo beneath your sleeves, said Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai.

Q. When will the election results show up?

A. Expect the first round of returns to be posted at about 9 p.m., with regular updates every 15 or 20 minutes, Fenumiai said. The official results will be online at www.elections.alaska.gov and also posted at adn.com.

Q. Will I know who won the Senate race tonight?

A. Not unless there's a blowout and/or no one bothers to challenge the results in court. Otherwise, get ready to wait, as thousands of ballots will remain uncounted.

First of all, the state has sent out 30,000 absentee-by-mail ballots and another 1,200 by fax. A "large chunk" of those, plus some questioned ballots, won't be counted until Nov. 9, Fenumiai said. And the deadline for the state to count questioned ballots and absentee ballots mailed from overseas isn't until Nov. 17.

A hand count of write-in votes, if necessary, is expected to take three days and wouldn't begin until Nov. 18, Fenumiai said.

Q. Speaking of write-in votes: What counts, and how are they counted?

A. Write-in ballots are only opened and counted by hand if there are enough to flat-out win the race or if the number of write-ins comes a close second -- within .5 percent -- of the candidate with the most votes.

Simply writing a candidate's first name or initials may not work. State law calls for voters to fill out the last name of the candidate, or his or her full name as it appears on the candidate's declaration to run.

Ballots that include a write-in name but don't have the oval filled in won't be counted, Fenumiai said. Filling in the oval is a requirement of state law.

Minor misspellings are probably OK, she said.

As division director, Fenumiai is the one who will decide which entries count and which don't, with input from the Department of Law, she said.

After the election the sealed ballots will be flown to Juneau and locked away, Fenumiai said. If necessary, the job of counting them by hand would fall to teams of workers who normally perform a hand count of random precincts as part of the state's election verification process.

Campaigns are allowed to watch the hand-count process. They can object to whether individual ballots should be counted, which won't change the results but causes the ballot to be placed in a "challenge" envelope in case there's a lawsuit after the election is certified.

Q. How many votes have already been cast?

A. The state had received about 15,900 absentee-by-mail ballots as of Sunday, according to the Division of Elections. Another nearly 10,900 people participated in early voting.

More than 6,300 people voted absentee in person and more than 400 voted absentee by fax.

Only the early voting numbers will show up in tonight's results, Fenumiai said.

Q. What about a list of write-in candidates at the polling places?

A. Despite challenges from the state Democratic and Republican parties, the Alaska Supreme Court said on Friday that election workers can show a list of write-in candidates to voters when asked.

Critics of the decision said it would unfairly aid Murkowski -- who lost in the Republican primary to Miller and chose to wage a write-in campaign to keep her job -- by helping people get her name right. Last week a surge of protesters signed up as Senate write-in candidates to flood the list with their names too.

As a result, the roster of write-ins ballooned to about eight pages, Fenumiai said. According to the Division of Elections website, there are 160 write-in hopefuls for the Senate race alone.

The division has told poll workers not to post the list on polling place walls or leave it sitting on tables or counters, Fenumiai said.

"If they ask, and only if they ask, then the poll worker is allowed to show them," she said.

Call Kyle Hopkins at 257-4334 or e-mail khopkins@adn.com.

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