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Another round of early election results shows Dunbar, Bronson firmly in place for a runoff in Anchorage mayor’s race

Dave Bronson and Forrest Dunbar have the most votes in the 2021 mayoral election.

A third round of early election results posted late Thursday showed candidates Forrest Dunbar and Dave Bronson maintaining ample leads over other candidates for Anchorage mayor, with Dunbar still leading in the race.

Although the election results are not official until they are certified by the Assembly on April 20, it is improbable that either Dunbar or Bronson will win the 45% plus one required to win the mayor’s race outright, signaling the two candidates will face each other in a runoff.

“I am looking forward to working hard the next month and continuing to campaign on the issues that those in Anchorage are facing daily,” Bronson said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

The race between Dunbar and Bronson has tightened as more ballots have been counted, with Bronson edging in on Dunbar’s lead since election day. With thousands of votes left to count, Dunbar said that Bronson could eclipse his overall lead.

Still, “it’s clear that we are going finish one, two, in some order,” Dunbar said. “But then we’re in a runoff and that’s a whole different ballgame.”

Just under 51,200 ballots have been counted so far. Dunbar, an Assembly member from East Anchorage, was leading with 16,458 total votes, or just under 33%. Bronson, a retired pilot, was next with 15,953 total votes, or just under 32%.

Bronson is a conservative who has opposed much of the city’s handling of the pandemic, including its emergency orders like the mask mandate and temporary shutdowns and capacity restrictions on businesses.

Conversely, Dunbar as an Assembly member has voted multiple times to continue the city’s emergency status and supported its emergency orders. He has campaigned on what he calls “fact-based leadership.”

The early results show about a 21.6% voter turnout so far, but more ballots remain to be counted and more will arrive by mail.

Data from the municipal clerk’s office show it has received more than 14,600 additional ballots that have not yet been tabulated. On top of that, there are roughly 9,000 more ballots that the elections center has received but not yet begun to process, deputy municipal clerk Erika McConnell said.

The 13 other candidates in the mayoral race were still far behind on Thursday, early results show. All maintained their relative positions behind the leaders. Bill Falsey was in third with a little over 13% of the vote, Bill Evans had over 9%, Mike Robbins had over 7% and George Martinez had over 3%. The rest of the candidates each had received a small number of votes.

How a runoff will work

The runoff election is scheduled for May 11.

This is the first year that Anchorage will hold a runoff election since it installed the vote-by-mail system in 2018. It comes with a much tighter timeline than the regular election.

There are just three weeks from the time of certification until the May 11 runoff. Voters will also have less time to fill out and return their ballots.

Following the certification of the regular election by the Anchorage Assembly on April 20, the elections office will have about two weeks to prepare ballot packages for the runoff election. However, some preparations are already underway.

Those ballot packages are scheduled to be mailed out by May 3 — just about a week before runoff election day on May 11.

But McConnell said that the elections office has long been planning for the possibility of a runoff, and that ballots will actually go out sooner than the May 3 deadline.

Still, voters will have less time to receive their ballot, fill it out, and mail it back or put it in a secure drop box than in the regular municipal election. (Voters will also be able to vote in person at one of the city’s three vote centers.)

Election results are not official yet, but with their wide leads, the Dunbar and Bronson campaigns are gearing up for the runoff.

Election workers Jean Sondrud, left, and Marvin Cox unfold ballots so they can be scanned on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 at the Municipality of Anchorage election center. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Claire Shaw, campaign manager for Dunbar, said that his campaign is now pivoting to focus on voter turnout and ensuring that voters know the runoff is happening.

“We’ll be doing a lot of work to get out to vote, to make sure that people know that there is right after, coming really on the heels of this election, there will be another one,” Shaw said.

Bronson in an emailed statement on Thursday said he would like as much time as possible to operate the campaign but understands “that these are the constraints we need to adhere to.”

“We simply must do more in a shorter amount of time,” he said in the email.

Still, he said he is concerned that some voters may be out of town during the week that runoff ballots are mailed out.

McConnell said that voters who know they will be out of town can apply to have a ballot mailed to a different location. They can also apply to vote by fax or email.

Anchorage residents who weren’t registered to vote in the regular election still have time to register to vote in the runoff. That deadline is April 11, McConnell said.

More details emerge on slow election day vote count

Thursday’s early results bring further clarity to an election that began with an unexpectedly low ballot tabulation on election day, leaving candidates in suspense until Wednesday’s results.

Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said she was surprised by low initial count, and it was due to several issues slowing down a key process called adjudication.

A flood of last minute ballots, crowded in-person vote centers on election day, and a large number of ballots filled out with stray marks and with extra ovals filled in caused the delay in the adjudication process, slowing the total tabulation.

Jones on Wednesday night released a statement saying they found many ballots with ovals filled in with a selected candidate, but all the other ovals were also filled in and then crossed off.

Some Anchorage residents in social media posts had indicated that they intended to fill out their ballots this way because they did not want anyone tampering with their ballot.

Also, at least one Anchorage vote center saw record in-person turnout on Tuesday.

Many voters at the Loussac Library vote center on election day also said that they chose to vote in person rather than vote by mail. Several of the voters interviewed by the Daily News on election day said that they do not trust the mail-in voting system and felt more secure voting in person.

People wait in line outside the Loussac Library's in-person voting location on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. (Marc Lester / ADN)

The busy polls also slowed the ballot counting process, drawing election workers away from the election center to deliver supplies and help voters, McConnell said.

There are more than 20,000 ballots still left to tabulate, and ballots that were postmarked by Tuesday have until April 16 to make it to the elections center and be counted. Overseas ballots have until April 20.

Thursday’s early results in school board, recall remain the same

Thursday’s early results also show that District 4 voters are continuing to reject an initiative to recall Assembly chair Felix Rivera. About 58% voted “no” on the initiative. Just over 20% of the registered voters in the district have submitted ballots that are included in that tally so far.

The leaders of the school board race, all endorsed by Anchorage Democrats and the Anchorage Education Association, remained the same. Pat Higgins leads for seat E, Kelly Lessens for seat B, Dora Wilson for seat F and Carl Jacobs for seat G.

Two school board incumbents, board president Elisa Vakalis and member Alisha Hilde, could lose their seats.

Thursday’s preliminary results changed for one of the 11 propositions on the ballot: Proposition 8 is now failing with 49.6% of the vote. It is a $3.9 million bond proposal to fund new Anchorage police fleet vehicles and other improvements.

Proposition 1, a $6.9 million bond proposal that would fund various capital projects, was still failing with just under 48% of the vote.

The rest were passing. Those propositions include a property tax levy to pay for body cameras and other technology improvements for the Anchorage Police Department, which is so far succeeding with about 55% of the vote.