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Politics

What’s next in Alaska’s election? Waiting.

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: November 3, 2020
  • Published November 3, 2020

Ballot envelopes being removed from a ballot drop box outside the Region II Elections Office on Gambell Street after the polls closed on Nov. 3, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

After all of the campaigns and a frenetic Election Day, Alaska’s election is now in the hands of small bipartisan review boards staffed by temporary workers and spread across Alaska.

While many Alaskans voted on Tuesday, at least 122,233 absentee and early votes will not be counted until at least next week. That number is expected to rise as more ballots arrive in the mail.

Those votes will decide the outcomes of local and statewide elections: If turnout finishes near what it was four years ago, the late-counted ballots may account for one in three of all votes cast this year.

In part because of COVID-19, Alaskans voted in record numbers before Election Day. By the time polls opened Tuesday morning, 161,217 Alaskans had voted in advance at in-person polling stations or remotely by mail and fax.

A family fills a voting booth at the early voting location at the Midtown Mall on October 27, 2020. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Only 37,955 of those votes are included in the Election Day total. The rest will be counted between Nov. 10 and Nov. 18, the deadline in state law.

Before the ballots are counted, Alaska’s absentee review boards must examine them by hand, checking signatures, dates, IDs and voter histories to ensure each ballot is legal.

Though the review boards began working on Oct. 27, Tiffany Montemayor, public relations manager for the Alaska Division of Elections, said the boards will not have all 122,000-plus ballots ready by Nov. 10.

“I know that they won’t all be done on that day for sure,” she said.

That means some ballots will be counted Nov. 10 and others on subsequent days, and there is no set schedule for results.

Nov. 13 is the deadline for absentee ballots to reach elections officials by mail. If they were postmarked on or before Election Day and have no other problems, the ballots will be counted.

In previous elections, the division updated results at the deadline.

While the absentee review boards work, another board will be examining questioned ballots — votes where poll workers couldn’t verify an Alaskan’s registration on Election Day.

In 2016, there were 19,822 questioned ballots, and all but 270 were at least partially counted. There’s no way to tell in advance how many there will be this year.

Workers also will be examining special-needs ballots. Those are cast by people who need an assistant to vote. With some Alaskans in quarantine, the state is expecting more of those. Four years ago, there were 905.

The work on absentee, questioned and special-needs ballots will continue until Nov. 18, the deadline for all votes to be counted.

After that deadline, a statewide review board will double-check the numbers ahead of a final deadline: Nov. 25.

On the day before Thanksgiving, the director of the Division of Elections is scheduled to sign forms confirming the final result.

Candidates have five days to request a recount, but if none do — and none challenge the result in court — the last word will come Dec. 14 as Alaska’s three delegates to the Electoral College officially approve the result.

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