Politics

Early numbers show tight legislative races with thousands of uncounted ballots

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Preliminary election results on Tuesday showed tight margins in key Alaska legislative races with thousands of absentee ballots still to be counted.

Many key races for seats in the Alaska Legislature appeared to be favoring Republican candidates in preliminary results, but political observers believe that with a greater proportion of left-leaning voters casting ballots by mail, those races will tighten in favor of Democrats. Adding to the uncertainty, only voters’ first choices were counted on election night — the ranked choice voting tabulation process will be completed Nov. 23.

Here are preliminary numbers in several key races, in results posted just after 11 p.m. Tuesday:

• In the biggest-spending legislative race this cycle, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman was optimistic after being just over one percentage point ahead of Republican Sen. Mia Costello for a key West Anchorage Senate seat.

[2022 Alaska general election preliminary results]

• In Anchorage’s Muldoon neighborhood, Republican Rep. David Nelson was ahead with 44% of the vote. Democrat Cliff Groh was second with 36% of the vote and Lyn Franks, also a Democrat, had 20%. Groh and Franks ran mailers encouraging voters to “rank the blue,” and expected to combine their tally to overwhelm Nelson with ranked choice voting.

• In Northeast Anchorage, Republican Stanley Wright was ahead of Democrat Ted Eischeid by 151 votes. Absentee ballots could be key in this race, expected to tighten once all outstanding ballots are counted in coming days.

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Republican Sen. Roger Holland was virtually neck-and-neck with moderate GOP former Sen. Cathy Giessel for a South Anchorage seat after he defeated her in the 2020 Republican primary. Democratic candidate Roselynn Cacy was a few hundred votes behind in third place, but with ranked choice voting, much of the support for Cacy is expected to flow to Giessel to see the former senator’s vote tally grow.

Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson was 86 votes ahead of Republican challenger Kathy Henslee for a Midtown Anchorage House seat. Most of the district had been held by Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck, who endorsed Josephson after announcing he was not running for reelection. Tuck had won by less than 400 votes from the past two elections.

• Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick, a moderate who has caucused with the bipartisan House majority, was more than 15 points ahead of conservative GOP Rep. Ken McCarty for an open Eagle River Senate seat. The race has been seen as a test for whether voters will reward legislators working across the aisle.

• Rep. Zack Fields was ahead of fellow Democratic Rep. Harriet Drummond by over 15 points after being paired together in the same district due to redistricting.

• Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman was around 500 votes ahead of fellow Republican Tuckerman Babcock, who is a former chair of the Alaska GOP, and nonpartisan candidate Andy Cizek trailing distantly in third place for a Soldotna Senate seat.

Bjorkman, who had been endorsed by Republican Senate President Peter Micciche, said the campaign had started slowly, but that it had finished strong.

“Being ahead is better than being behind,” Bjorkman said about the preliminary results.

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who was solidly leading in his race against Republican John Cunningham, said the handful of races that he had expected to be close were close. Absentee ballots can arrive from overseas and be counted 15 days after Election Day.

“It’s going to be a long couple of weeks,” Wielechowski said.

In a briefing with reporters last week, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer warned that races could change as absentee ballots are counted. Two years ago, once by-mail ballots were tallied, leads in several key races flipped in favor of the liberal candidate.

In the coming days and weeks, closed-door negotiations between newly elected legislators could be decisive for how majorities form. A left-leaning House bipartisan coalition has been in the majority since 2017, and progressives are hoping to replicate that in the House and Senate. Republicans are striving to form majorities in their own right.

With stark differences anticipated among lawmakers on social issues and how to address school funding, and the state’s long-term fiscal challenges, the organization of both legislative chambers is expected to have a significant impact on which bills become law, and how the Legislature works with the next governor.

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Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at smaguire@adn.com.

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