Poll worker Harmony Bolden, right, helps a voter cast their ballot at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Poll worker Harmony Bolden, right, helps a voter cast their ballot at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Local candidates react to preliminary general election results

Bjorkman leads Babcock; Ruffridge on track to edge out Gillham

Local state legislative candidates weighed in Wednesday on preliminary general election results published by the Alaska Division of Elections, which remain unchanged from election night.

Unofficial results, which include early votes and some absentee votes, show Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman leading in their respective races for seats in the Alaska House and Senate.

In the race for the Alaska Senate seat that represents Kenai and Soldotna, Bjorkman has received about 46.3% of the more than 12,800 votes cast. He’s trailed by Tuckerman Babcock, a former chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who has received about 41.9% of votes. Both candidates are Republicans.

A third candidate, nonpartisan Andy Cizek, also ran for the seat. He received about 11.2% of votes cast. Under ranked choice voting, if neither Bjorkman nor Babcock have received more than 50% of all votes cast on Nov. 23, when the Alaska Division of Elections plans to have all votes counted, Cizek will be eliminated from the race and his votes will be redistributed to the two other candidates.

Bjorkman confirmed Wednesday that, if he is declared the winner of the District D race, he plans to resign his seat on the borough assembly. He’s represented Nikiski on the assembly since 2019. Alaska State Senate District D includes the Kenai/Soldotna area and covers the northern half of the Kenai Peninsula with borders extended to above Tustumena Lake.

Per Kenai Peninsula Borough code and Alaska Statute, assembly members have 30 days from when a member resigns to appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy. The assembly appointee will serve until the borough’s next regular election, when a successor is elected to fill the remainder of the term.

While not every vote has been counted yet, Babcock on Wednesday took to social media to congratulate Bjorkman and to “wish him the best in his new role.”

“Based on the votes counted so far, it appears that Jesse Bjorkman will be the choice for local State Senator made by our friends and neighbors here on the Kenai,” Babcock wrote. “I congratulate him, and wish him the best in his new role.”

Cizek also took to social media Wednesday to thank supporters of his campaign.

“Of course the final results of the senate race will not be final for a few weeks but I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported and encouraged me during this race,” Cizek wrote. “It was a great experience!”

Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge, a Republican, leads in the race for the Alaska House seat that represents Kenai and Soldotna — District 7. He challenged incumbent Rep. Ron Gillham, also a Republican, who has held the seat since former Rep. Gary Knopp’s death in 2020.

With all precincts reporting and some absentee ballots already counted, Ruffridge has a roughly 350-vote lead over Gillham and has clinched about 52.7% of the more than 5,700 votes cast. If Ruffridge still has more than 50% of votes cast on Nov. 23 — the date by which the state plans to have all votes counted — he will be declared the winner of the election.

Ruffridge on social media Wednesday thanked supporters of his campaign for their work throughout election season.

“Thank you to the voters, supporters, donors, friends, family, and all those who worked so hard during this campaign,” Ruffridge wrote. “I couldn’t do it without each of you. Even though results will not be certified for a couple of weeks we are excited to see the results from last night and want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to all of YOU!”

Nov. 29 is the target date for the State Review Board to certify the results of the Nov. 8 election, according to the Alaska Division of Elections. Before then, the state will receive absentee ballots. The state on Nov. 23 will determine whether any candidate received more than 50% of the vote. If not, ranked choice tabulation will begin.

Preliminary election results can be found on the Alaska Division of Elections website at elections.alaska.gov.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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