Dave Bronson took the lead over opponent Forrest Dunbar in the Anchorage mayor’s race, preliminary election results posted Wednesday show. The race remains close.
With 76,135 ballots counted, the retired military and commercial pilot was leading in the runoff with 38,150 total votes, or about 50.18%.
Dunbar, an Assembly member from East Anchorage, had 37,872 votes.
Dunbar had been slightly ahead on runoff election night with a slim lead of 114 votes, or a 0.16% margin.
Now, just 278 votes separate the two candidates, currently meeting the threshold for an automatic recount. Municipal code requires an automatic recount be conducted if a candidate wins by less than 0.5%.
Election workers are continuing to process ballots and thousands more votes have not yet been counted, leaving the race too close to call. About 4,000 more ballots were counted Wednesday.
“We look at them as promising,” Bronson said of Wednesday’s preliminary results. “We kind of knew that later ballots skew in our direction.”
Bronson leads by 0.36%.
“Yesterday we were up. Today we’re down, and we’ll see how things look tomorrow,” said Claire Shaw, Dunbar’s campaign manager. “We’re very, very grateful for the tremendously hard work of everyone — the clerk’s office and the election center.”
Dunbar was participating in an Assembly meeting and was not available to comment about the updated results on Wednesday evening.
The elections center has received more than 84,300 ballots so far, according to a report from elections officials. More than 8,000 aren’t yet counted.
Ballots are still arriving at the elections center in unknown numbers. In the city’s first-ever vote by mail runoff election for mayor, regular ballots have until May 21 to arrive and be counted. Overseas ballots have until May 25.
While there are many votes left to count, some say that previous voting patterns indicate the swing toward Bronson could continue. Others say it is still too close to call.
Meanwhile, the campaigns are keeping a close eye on the elections center and the ballot counting process. The elections center also saw a temporary interruption Wednesday when a fire alarm was triggered.
The fire alarm halted ballot processing for about an hour, Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones said.
A spokesman for the fire department said it was possibly caused by a bad detector with the alarm system, and the issue was referred to the private contractor that provides the alarm system.
The campaigns are anxiously awaiting further vote tallies.
Bronson had said Tuesday that he expected the vote to tip in his favor as more ballots are counted because conservatives tend to vote later in elections and in person.
“We’ve got certainly a long ways to go,” Bronson said Wednesday evening. “Our goal is just to make sure that every legal ballot is counted in a fair and balanced manner.”
An RV belonging to Bronson’s campaign was parked outside the elections center on Tuesday and Wednesday. He said that observers for his campaign are monitoring the center 24/7.
“We’re logging everything,” he said.
For now, he said he had no comment on whether he had concerns with the ballot counting process.
“When we’re all done, then we’ll take a look at it,” he said.
Shaw said the Dunbar campaign is staffing observers at the elections center while counting occurs, but their campaign is not watching 24/7.
“Even with the fire drill, Barbara and the whole team there really had things under control,” Shaw said.
“We trust in the process,” she said.
During the April 6 election, Dunbar was initially ahead in preliminary election results, but Bronson moved ahead as more votes were counted.
Bill Evans, a former Assembly member and a candidate for mayor who did not make the runoff, said that in the most recent elections, ballots counted later tend to break more conservative.
“I would expect his lead to grow slightly over the next day or two,” Evans said. “Conventional wisdom would suggest that Bronson is in good shape, but you know, it certainly mathematically can go either way at this point.”
Scott Kendall, an attorney who helped write and advocate for Alaska’s recently passed ballot measure allowing ranked-choice voting in statewide elections and who supports Dunbar, said “it’s still far too close to call.”
The ratio of in-person ballots, which might be expected to favor Bronson, versus the mailed-in ballots, which might favor Dunbar, is not known, he said.
“With a margin under one-half of 1%, it is far too early to make any conclusions,” he said.
The campaign has been heated, highlighting divisions among residents over how the city should move forward. The candidates have considerably different approaches to the coronavirus pandemic, homelessness and reviving its economy.
Bronson announced his candidacy as a bid to bring conservative leadership to the city. He is an outspoken critic of the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly of its economic restrictions and shutdowns of businesses.
A Bronson administration would mark a shift away from the more progressive leadership of current Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson and former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Conversely, Dunbar has largely supported the city’s COVID-19 policies. He has said he wants to bring “fact-based leadership” to Anchorage.
The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to certify the results of the runoff election on May 25. That certification is subject to the outcome of any recount, according to municipal code.