Politics

Alaska election officials report ‘smooth, proper’ election, but Tshibaka hints at coming ‘recounts and lawsuits’

election day, Kelly Tshibaka

In the days following Tuesday’s election, U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka joined other Trump-endorsed Republican candidates casting unfounded doubt on election results, despite the fact that Alaska election officials are still counting thousands of absentee ballots and have not reported widespread problems in voting.

“Our war is not over yet,” Tshibaka said Wednesday in an interview with Steve Bannon, who previously advised former President Donald Trump. “This might come down to things like recounts and lawsuits.”

“So we’re anticipating a whole bunch of shenanigans here in these next couple months between now and January,” said Tshibaka, who asked for additional campaign contributions, which could go toward funding an election recount.

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, a Republican charged with overseeing the Alaska Division of Elections, said in a statement Thursday that the election had been secure, and no problems had been identified by voting officials.

The latest results in the U.S. Senate race show that Tshibaka is narrowly ahead of Republican incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in first-choice votes, but thousands of absentee ballots remain to be counted and ranked choice voting tabulation will likely put Murkowski ahead.

As of Thursday afternoon, Tshibaka had 44% of votes while Murkowski had nearly 43%, trailing Tshibaka by less than 3,000 first-choice votes. Democrat Pat Chesbro had more than 9% of the vote; many of her supporters were expected to rank Murkowski second. Buzz Kelley, a Republican who dropped out of the race and endorsed Tshibaka but whose name remained on the ballot, had less than 3% of first-choice votes counted so far.

Under Alaska’s ranked choice voting system, if no candidate reaches the 50% threshold needed to win, the last-place candidate is eliminated and their votes redistributed to the remaining candidates according to their next-choice preferences. That process repeats itself until a candidate crosses the 50% threshold.

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[Earlier coverage: Murkowski closes on Tshibaka as votes are counted in U.S. Senate race]

Election officials are expected to continue counting absentee and overseas ballots in the coming days, and Murkowski allies say that could put her ahead of Tshibaka in first-choice votes. But even if it doesn’t, Murkowski — who has relied on a coalition of support from both the left, center and right — is far more likely to benefit from the ranked choice voting tabulation than her more conservative Republican opponent. Alaska’s new voting system was designed and advocated for by Murkowski’s allies; it was implemented after voters narrowly approved it by ballot measure in 2020.

U.S. Senate Debate for the State at Alaska Public Media

The Division of Elections is set to release the next batch of election results on Tuesday. Ranked choice voting tabulation is scheduled to take place on Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. after all ballots are received and counted by election officials. Results in the Senate race and other contests on Tuesday’s ballot won’t be final until then.

Election officials said Thursday that they had not found reason to question the results of the election. The Division of Elections reported Thursday that they had not heard of any official requests for a recount.

[2 rural Alaska polling places didn’t open until late afternoon on Election Day]

If such a request is submitted, a recount would include a hand-count verification of first-choice results from one precinct per house district. Election contests must be submitted 10 days after result certification. The target date for the state board of elections to certify results is Nov. 29.

“If there are challenges to the election and we have to go into disputes or recounts or litigation, it will take longer,” Tshibaka told Bannon. “We’re anticipating and bracing for that. We know that we’ve got all the way until January before they need to swear someone in, so the timeframe could drag out until then.”

[2022 Alaska general election preliminary results]

In a written statement on Thursday, Meyer thanked election workers “who gave their time, effort and energy to conduct a smooth, proper, and by all accounts secure election this past Tuesday.”

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer

Still, Trump and his allies have already begun questioning results both in Alaska and elsewhere.

In Alaska’s U.S. House race, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola appeared poised for reelection as of early vote counts. Peltola had 47% of first-choice votes, meaning the race would likely come down to a ranked choice tabulation. Peltola’s large share of the vote made it unlikely that either of the two Republicans challenging her would coalesce enough support to take the lead.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin was in second place with nearly 27% of the vote. Nick Begich, a Republican member of a prominent family of Alaska Democrats, had 24% of the vote. Palin can only win if the vast majority of Begich’s supporters ranked Palin second. But a lingering animosity between the two — despite their joint “rank the red” message — makes that unlikely.

That did not stop Palin from acting like a winner in the days after the election. She said on social media that she appointed former state lawmaker Jerry Ward as her acting chief of staff and on Thursday flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of the Freedom Caucus, according to Ward.

The Freedom Caucus consists of conservative Republican members of the U.S. House and is chaired by Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican. Palin said on Tuesday she had already spoken with Perry before results in her U.S. House race were known.

Palin took to social media to cast doubt on Alaska’s ranked choice voting system on Wednesday, calling it “un-American” and making the unsupported claim that it was a “fiasco” that “purposefully confused voters through controlled liberal media, in order to split the GOP vote.”

Federal and state courts have consistently upheld ranked choice voting as constitutional.

Still, Ward said Palin had not indicated she would file or join any lawsuit challenging the election results, even if she loses to Peltola. Ward said he has received reports of election security concerns from several Palin supporters and has forwarded all of them directly to Tshibaka.

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[Full coverage of the 2022 general election in Alaska]

Tshibaka campaign advisers Mary Ann Pruitt and Tim Murtaugh did not respond to phone calls and texts seeking clarification on Tshibaka’s intention to challenge election results.

Asked at a rally five days before Election Day if she had any reason to question the integrity of Alaska’s election system, Tshibaka did not indicate she had reason to distrust it.

“At this point, I feel really good about it. I obviously understand the vulnerabilities of the system more than most people do, but I also believe that we have a plan in place to mitigate for those vulnerabilities the best that we can,” said Tshibaka, who previously served as the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration and in 2019 oversaw an audit of the Division of Election. “All systems are subject to human error, that doesn’t concern me. I feel really good about where we are. We’ll see how things play out and if we need to correct things we will, but right now I feel confident.”

Murkowski’s campaign staffers and allies appeared certain that the incumbent would win reelection once all ballots are counted.

“We are going to wait until every Alaskan’s vote is counted and hopefully the Tshibaka campaign will do the same,” Shea Siegert, a spokesperson for the Murkowski campaign, said on Thursday. “Once those votes get counted, we will address any challenge that the Tshibaka campaign launches and we still feel very confident in our position and in the processes that the Division of Elections has in place.”

Both Palin and Tshibaka were endorsed by Trump and shared a stage with the former president when he traveled to Anchorage for a rally in July. Trump-endorsed candidates had a mixed performance nationwide and in Alaska. Both Tshibaka and Palin appeared to be trailing in their respective races; but Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a Republican who was endorsed by Trump but did not attend the Anchorage rally, was poised for victory.

Dunleavy, who had 52% of first-choice votes counted as of Thursday, did not respond to requests for comment on the security of the election sent both to his campaign and official staff. Dunleavy’s running mate, Nancy Dahlstrom, is set to become the state’s top elections administrator.

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Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The Associated Press and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.

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