The latest count of absentee and early voting ballots saw Democrats and progressives make gains in several key legislative races and take the lead in an open East Anchorage House seat, following a trend of a greater proportion of left-leaning voters casting ballots by mail.
The Alaska Senate has been trending strongly toward a bipartisan majority coalition with presumptive caucus members meeting behind closed doors, trying to formalize a leadership team.
House candidates are expecting that it will take the release of final results next Wednesday to get a clearer picture of numbers before a bipartisan coalition or a Republican-led majority organizes that legislative chamber.
Before Tuesday’s count, 21 Republicans were ahead in races for the 40-seat state House. Now, 20 Republicans are leading and so are 20 Democrats and independents, but three of those races are set to be resolved through the ranked choice tabulation on Nov. 23:
• Democrat Donna Mears is now leading against Republican Forrest Wolfe by 78 votes for an open East Anchorage House seat. Mears had been behind by 135 votes from election night returns, but she had been confident by-mail ballots would see her take the lead as happened in August’s primary election.
• Fairbanks Democrat Maxine Dibert increased her lead to 49% of first-choice votes against Republican Rep. Bart LeBon with 30% and Kelly Nash, another Republican, with 21%. Dibert, close to crossing the 50-percent threshold on first-choice votes, is on track to flip the Downtown Fairbanks seat blue.
• In an open East Anchorage House race, Republican Stanley Wright saw his lead shrink to 78 votes against Democrat Ted Eischeid, but the GOP candidate is holding on. From election night returns, Wright had been ahead by 151 votes.
• In Midtown Anchorage, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson widened his lead against Republican Kathy Henslee and has 52% of first choice votes. Josephson is 215 votes ahead of Henslee after leading by 86 votes from election night.
• Republican Rep. David Nelson stayed steady with 43% for a Northeast Anchorage House seat, ahead of Democrats Cliff Groh with 36% and Lyn Franks with 20%. If enough of Franks’ supporters ranked Groh second, he could come from behind and win.
• Democrat Denny Wells increased his lead of first-choice votes with 46% against Republican Rep. Tom Mckay with 40% and Danny Eibeck, another Republican, with 14%. A large majority of Eibeck supporters will need to have ranked McKay second to see him keep his Sand Lake House seat.
• For an open Lower Hillside House seat, nonpartisan candidate Walter Featherly increased his lead with 45% of first-choice votes against Republican Julie Coulombe with 39% and Ross Bieling, another Republican, with 15%. Coulombe will need most of Bieling’s second-choice votes to come from behind and win.
In the 20-seat Senate, the latest ballot count increased the likelihood that Democrats would pick up two seats for a total of nine, with Republicans expected to hold 11 seats:
• Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki increased his lead to 51% of first-choice votes, and tipped over the critical 50-percent threshold. If those results hold, Kawasaki would avoid the ranked choice tabulation and he would beat former Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly and Alex Jafre, both of whom are Republicans.
• Anchorage Rep. Matt Claman widened his leading margin and he is now at 52% against Republican Sen. Mia Costello with 48% for a West Anchorage Senate seat. Claman was just over one percentage point ahead of Costello before Tuesday’s count.
• Former Sen. Cathy Giessel is neck-and-neck with 33.72% against fellow Republican Sen. Roger Holland with 33.31% and Democrat Roselynn Cacy with 32.65%. If Giessel finishes first, more of Cacy’s supporter’s second-choice votes are expected to flow to her, and would likely mean the former Senate president would be elected again to represent South Anchorage.
Ballots can keep arriving from overseas to be counted up to 15 days after Election Day. On Nov. 23, the Division of Elections will livestream the ranked choice tabulation, starting at 4 p.m.