Preliminary election results posted Tuesday night showed Forrest Dunbar and Dave Bronson with wide leads in the Anchorage mayor’s race.
With just over 10,600 ballots counted, Dunbar, an Assembly member from East Anchorage, was the leading candidate with 3,701 votes, or about 35%, followed by Bronson, a retired pilot, with 3,116, or 30%.
Tens of thousands of ballots have not yet been counted. As of Monday, the elections center had received over 45,700 ballot envelopes and estimated that it received 13,000 more on Tuesday, elections officials said in a statement.
The number of ballots counted Tuesday night is significantly lower compared with the number included in preliminary election results during previous mail-in elections. In 2018, during the last mayoral race, about 50,000 ballots had been counted by the end of election day.
Early results showed Bill Falsey next with 12% of the vote, Bill Evans with 9%, Mike Robbins with 7% and George Martinez had 3%. Nine other candidates each had received a smattering of votes.
None of the 15 mayoral candidates are likely to gain the 45% plus one lead required to win the election outright. If no one wins outright, the top two candidates will advance to a runoff election on May 11.
However, as ballots continue to flow in during the coming days, it is possible, though unlikely, that the vote could tip in favor of the leading candidates.
Each would need an increase of at least 10% to 15% of the vote to win outright.
Or, another candidate could gain an edge as votes continue to be counted and oust Dunbar or Bronson from a spot in the likely runoff.
Many more ballots are still arriving in unknown numbers, as voters mailed them last-minute or placed them in secure drop boxes around the city.
Most ballots that were postmarked by April 6 have until April 16 to arrive at the elections center and be counted; overseas ballots have until April 20.
Some ballots were cast at in-person vote centers Tuesday for the final day of the election. Voters also placed ballots in secure drop boxes around the city. All those ballots remain uncounted.
Still, the initial results place Dunbar and Bronson squarely ahead. The two candidates have largely different and often conflicting approaches to the city’s issues, including the COVID-19 pandemic and homelessness.
Both said early in the race that they expected to face one another in a runoff.
Although the race is technically nonpartisan, other candidates have said that they see Bronson and Dunbar as the two furthest apart on the political spectrum.
Assembly member Dunbar in 2014 ran as a Democrat for a seat in the U.S. House and lost. He is also a captain in the Alaska Army National Guard.
Dunbar has supported the city’s COVID-19 response and voted multiple times to extend its emergency declaration and the mayor’s special powers to enact emergency orders. He has campaigned on bringing what he calls “fact-based leadership” to the Anchorage government.
Bronson, a former U.S. Air Force and commercial pilot and longtime Anchorage resident, announced his candidacy as a bid to bring conservative leadership back to the mayor’s office.
He has been a vocal critic of the city’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and its emergency orders, which he has promised to revoke if elected, including the city’s mask mandate.
His campaign arose during a surge of criticism and protests over the city’s health mandates and business shutdowns during the pandemic, and its pursuit of using CARES Act funds for purchasing buildings for homeless and treatment services last summer.
Dunbar has criticized Bronson for his approach to the pandemic and for holding campaign events that don’t appear to abide by the city’s health restrictions.
Bronson said Tuesday that his campaign was disappointed in the low total number of ballots counted but that he is remaining patient and waiting for more results.
The 10,600 of ballots included in the preliminary results is just under 4.5% of the number of registered voters in Anchorage.
“It’s hard to make any determination with only 4% in,” Bronson said. Still, Bronson said his campaign has strong momentum.
“I’ll sleep well tonight,” he said.
Dunbar also said he was “a little surprised” by the low number of counted ballots.
“We’re just eagerly anticipating the rest of the ballots and seeing how things turn out,” Dunbar said. “It certainly looks like we’ll be in the runoff, but we’re going to wait and see what happens just like everyone else.”