East Anchorage House candidates Democrat Donna Mears, left, and Republican Forrest Wolfe, right, appear in a photo composite. Mears took the lead over Wolfe in an updated vote count on Tuesday, Nov. 15. (Mears photo by Andrew Kitchenman/Alaska Beacon; Wolfe campaign photo provided by Wolfe)

Democratic candidate Donna Mears overtook Republican candidate Forrest Wolfe in a closely watched Alaska House race as the Alaska Division of Elections counted 27,178 early, absentee and questioned ballots, about three-fifths of the number outstanding from the Nov. 8 general election.

Additional absentee ballots are expected to arrive in the coming days, and the Division of Elections’ next scheduled count is Friday.

With Mears taking a lead, the 40-seat Alaska House is split exactly in half. 

In 20 seats, Republicans lead. In the other 20, Democratic or independent candidates are leading. 

Since 2016, the House has been led by a predominantly Democratic coalition that includes independents and moderate Republicans. If Mears and other non-Republican candidates maintain their leads, the odds of a continued coalition increase.

Subsequent vote counts, including Alaska’s first-of-its-kind ranked choice sorting on Nov. 23, are expected to change some results and could alter the split in the House. 

In northern Anchorage, for example, Rep. David Nelson, a Republican, leads two Democratic challengers. In the ranked choice sorting process, preliminary results indicate that one of the Democrats will be eliminated, and ranked choice voting allows supporters of the eliminated candidate to put their support to a second candidate, likely the other Democrat.

Elsewhere in Anchorage, the sorting process may benefit Republicans. Democratic candidate Denny Wells has 46% of the vote in the House seat representing Anchorage’s Taku-Campbell Anchorage, but two Republicans in the district have a combined 54% of the vote. 

In the district surrounding the Alaska Zoo, nonpartisan candidate Walter Featherly has 45% of the vote but two competing Republicans have more than 55% of the vote combined.

Elsewhere in the state, Tuesday’s ballot counts did not result in any lead changes.

Statewide, incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has more than 51% of the vote in the race for governor, precluding the need for a ranked choice sorting process that involves his challengers. 

In the race for the U.S. House, Democratic candidate Mary Peltola has more than 48% of the vote, less than the combined totals of her two Republican challengers, Sarah Palin (26.1%) and Nick Begich (23.8%), but in the Aug. 16 special general election that featured all three candidates, many of Begich’s supporters did not list Palin as a second choice.

For the U.S. Senate seat on the ballot, Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka saw her lead over Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski dwindle to just 565 votes, or two-tenths of 1 percentage point. 

Many Democratic voters are expected to back Murkowski as a second choice when ranked choice sorting takes place Nov. 23 and Democratic candidate Pat Chesbro is eliminated.

Among state legislative races:

  • Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, now has more than 50% of the votes in his re-election contest against Republicans Jim Matherly and Alex Jafre. That margin means the race will likely not go through ranked choice sorting on Nov. 23 and Kawasaki is much more sure of victory.
  • Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, extended his 86-vote Election-Day lead over Republican challenger Kathy Henslee. Josephson now leads by 215 votes out of 5,400 cast.
  • In South Anchorage, a three-way state Senate race among Republican incumbent Roger Holland, Republican challenger Cathy Giessel and Democratic challenger Roselynn Cacy is divided almost exactly equally. Giessel had 33.7% of the vote Tuesday night, Holland had 33.3% and Cacy 32.7%. Giessel is expected to have a majority of the second-choice votes from Holland and Cacy supporters, meaning that she would win as long as she remains out of third place and is not eliminated first in ranked choice sorting. 
  • The lead of Republican Frank Tomaszewski (pronounced Thomas-shefsky) over Democratic incumbent Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, has dropped to just over 6%, with Tomaszewski’s share of the ballots dropping to 49.1%. That means the race will go through ranked choice sorting on Nov. 23. Tomaszewski is still the favorite: The third candidate in the race is Republican Nate DeMars, and many of his voters are believed to have picked Tomaszewski second. 
  • Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla and one of the leading conservative members of the state Senate, likely locked up re-election after early and absentee votes failed to diminish his lead over former Alaska Wildlife Troopers leader Doug Massie in a Republican-Republican head-to-head contest.
  • Justin Ruffridge, a Soldotna pharmacist who ran as a moderate alternative to Rep. Ron Gillham, R-Soldotna, appears likely to defeat the incumbent. With early votes and absentees through Nov. 11 counted in that district, he leads by 6 percentage points. 
  • The Division of Elections did not add votes from its Nome office, but there was a slight adjustment in the totals in the race between Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Alaskan Independence Party challenger Tyler Ivanoff. Foster’s total went up by three votes and Ivanoff’s fell by one, which increased Foster’s lead from six votes to 10. It’s the closest race in the state, and if Ivanoff were to win, he would be the first AIP candidate to serve in the Legislature.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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James Brooks, Alaska Beacon
2022-11-16 16:38:30
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