Alaskans can still vote in the special, 48-person U.S. House primary election through Saturday, when state officials will start counting the more than 100,000 ballots that will decide which four candidates will advance to the special general election.
State elections officials late Saturday will count an unknown portion of the 120,000 ballots they’ve received in the by-mail election to date. But the final results of the two-month campaign won’t be known until June 21, when the final tally is scheduled.
The primary will eliminate more than 90% of the candidates seeking to become Alaska’s first new member of Congress since 1973. That’s when Republican Don Young, who died in office in March, was first elected.
The special election this year is the first held under Alaska’s new system of nonpartisan primaries and ranked choice voting — and those who advocated to put that system in place said Friday that they’re eager to see its first test.
“It’s the day before the Super Bowl,” said Jason Grenn, executive director of Alaskans for Better Elections. “We’ve been talking about this and working on this for two-and-a-half years, and we finally get to put the system to work.”
Because the election had to be organized so quickly, state officials decided to conduct voting almost exclusively by mail, with postage-paid absentee ballots sent to every eligible Alaska voter — some 500,000 total. Dozens of in-person, early voting locations have also been open since late May.
Officials say they don’t yet know exactly how many of the 120,000 ballots in their possession will be counted Saturday — though it’s unlikely to be more than half, said Tiffany Montemayor, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Division of Elections. Each ballot envelope must be reviewed by a board for eligibility before it’s opened and counted, in a process that began May 27.
For Alaskans who haven’t returned their ballots already, the deadline to get them postmarked is Saturday.
Officials say the best way to ensure votes are counted at this point is to return completed ballots at an in-person voting location, where elections workers will stamp them. Alternatively, you can go to the post office and ask a worker to postmark your ballot, as opposed to leaving it in a collection box that may not be opened in time.
There are some 20 in-person voting sites across the state that will be open Saturday.
They are in Anchorage, Birch Creek, Cordova, Fairbanks, Hollis, Hydaburg, Hyder, Juneau, Klukwan, Naukati, Nome, Port Protection, Seward, Soldotna, Thorne Bay, Talkeetna, Tenakee Springs, Trapper Creek, Wasilla and Wrangell. A full list, with addresses, is available here.
In interviews Friday, candidates and political operatives said that campaigns are keeping relatively low profiles on Election Day. Republican Tara Sweeney was waving signs at the busy intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and the Seward Highway late Friday; she said she’s going to “run through the tape.”
“We’re leaving it all out on the field, and no regrets,” she said.
Nick Begich, one of two Republican frontrunners along with former Gov. Sarah Palin, said he’ll visit the Colony Days festival Saturday in Palmer. But he doesn’t have any formal Election Night celebration planned.
“We’ve been working all the way up until the last day,” Begich said. “There’s still people that are surprised to find that there’s an election happening.”
After the special primary, the four winners will be running in two elections at once — the four-person special general, which will be Alaskans’ first time testing out the ranked choice voting system, and a 31-person regular primary.
Begich said he’s counting on the state elections division and Alaska’s political parties to make sure the public understands the mechanics of the two separate elections so he can focus on his campaign.
“You can’t do everything,” he said. “You’ve got to focus on the issues and make sure that you’re listening to voters — and that voters are hearing you, as well.”
Marc Lester contributed reporting from Anchorage.