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Alaska Legislature

Democrat who lost Fairbanks House election recount by a single vote plans challenge

JUNEAU -- The Democrat who lost a recount by one vote in a contested Alaska House race said Wednesday she will challenge the results.

Kathryn Dodge said she disagreed with decisions the Division of Elections made on some ballots and will file required paperwork with the Alaska Supreme Court.

A recount, held Friday in the Fairbanks race, showed Republican Bart LeBon winning by one vote. During the recount, Dodge picked up another vote, while LeBon picked up two.

“This race has gone back and forth, favoring me and my opponent at one time or another during a lengthy process,” Dodge said in a statement. “I believe that it is important to follow the process through so that absolutely no doubt remains about this incredibly close result.”

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2018 file photo, Alaska House District 1 candidate Democrat Kathryn Dodge, right, watches the election recount at the Department of Elections' Juneau office. (Michael Penn/The Juneau Empire via AP, File)

Republicans have been in the minority in the House the past two years. They rushed to claim control of the chamber days after the election, when LeBon held a larger lead, only to see the margin go back and forth as more ballots were counted and the race deadlocked, prompting the recount. The current House speaker, Democrat Bryce Edgmon, has said the rush to organize was premature.

With LeBon, Republicans said they had the minimum 21 votes needed to control the 40-member House. The number included Nancy Dahlstrom, who was elected to the Eagle River seat held by Republican Rep. Dan Saddler. Saddler did not seek re-election but instead made a failed bid for state Senate. Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy named Dahlstrom as his corrections commissioner Wednesday.

Dunleavy also named victims' advocate Amanda Price as his public safety commissioner and Kevin Clarkson as his attorney general.

Price was an adviser to former Gov. Bill Walker on crime policy and worked for a time on Dunleavy's campaign. Clarkson has been involved in conservative causes, including helping represent a faith-based women's shelter in its lawsuit against the city of Anchorage over a requirement that it accept transgender women. He also represented the Kenai Peninsula Borough in a lawsuit challenging a borough policy restricting who could give invocations at assembly meetings.

Dunleavy's appointments are subject to legislative confirmation.

When there is a legislative vacancy, state law calls for the person appointed be from the same party as the person who left. Traditionally, the parties send a list of finalists they've vetted to the governor for consideration. Once a vacancy occurs, the governor has 30 days to make an appointment.

Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills said by email that the vacancy in this case would not occur until the new legislative term begins. The new Legislature convenes Jan. 15.

A coalition, composed largely of Democrats, took control of the House from Republicans after the 2016 elections. Republicans control the state Senate.

Elections director Josie Bahnke said the vote picked up by Dodge during the recount was a ballot marked with a highlighter and not read by the machine. LeBon picked up a vote that was initially rejected, after officials determined the voter was eligible to vote. He picked up another vote when officials determined the person who cast the ballot lived in the district.

Not tallied in the recount was a ballot that officials said was found on a voting precinct table in a secrecy sleeve on Election Day and later included in ballot materials sent to Juneau, where an election review was conducted. Officials determined it to be a so-called spoiled ballot that should have been destroyed. A voter made a mistake on the spoiled ballot, and a new ballot was requested and cast, Bahnke said.

Jay Parmley, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said he feels good about Dodge's chances.

“It’s certainly not going to hurt anything” to let the Supreme Court work it out, he said, adding: “It’s a lot easier to accept the outcome at that point, that every vote has been sort of debated and argued and thought about.”

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