Michael O’Rourke and another supporter wave signs for Justin Ruffridge on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Michael O’Rourke and another supporter wave signs for Justin Ruffridge on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Preliminary results: Ruffridge, Bjorkman lead in state House, Senate races

The two are competing in races for Senate District D and House District 7

Preliminary election results show Soldotna City Council member Justin Ruffridge polling ahead of incumbent Rep. Ron Gillham in the race for the Alaska State House seat that represents Kenai and Soldotna.

As of about 10:50 p.m., preliminary general election results, which reflect first-choice votes, showed, with all precincts reporting, Ruffridge clinching about 52.7% of the more than 5,700 votes cast. That’s compared to Gillham, who received about 46.7% of votes cast. Both candidates are Republicans.

A ballot summary report shows that there were about 1,450 absentee ballots cast in House District 7, not all of which are reflected in the preliminary race results. Absentee ballots will be counted through Nov. 23.

Ruffridge said Tuesday night that he is “very excited” about the results so far and that he’s happy with his campaign’s position. He led Gillham by more than 6 percentage points by about 11 p.m. Tuesday.

“The Ruffridge campaign is super excited tonight,” he said. “We’re over the moon (and) going to bed with great joy and gratefulness for the people of this district.”

Election results reported by the Alaska Division of Elections on Tuesday only reflect first-choice votes. Under Alaska’s ranked choice voting system, a candidate must receive 50% + 1 vote to be declared the winner of their race. Tabulation of second- or third-choice votes will not happen until Nov. 23 at the earliest.

In the race for Alaska Senate District D, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member and Nikiski Middle/High School teacher Jesse Bjorkman took an early lead. He is running against Tuckerman Babcock, a former chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, for the seat. Both candidates are Republicans.

Preliminary general election results show Bjorkman ahead of Babcock by about 4.2 percentage points. Of the more than 12,600 votes cast in that race, Bjorkman received about 46.3% and Babcock received about 42.1%. Nonpartisan candidate Andy Cizek, who also ran, received about 11% of the votes cast.

Bjorkman on Tuesday also described his feelings as “cautiously optimistic,” but said there are a lot of votes left to count. He said his campaign message was crafted to respond to the concerns he heard from constituents, which he thinks worked to his advantage.

“We’re very happy with the results so far,” Bjorkman said.

Babcock echoed Tuesday that thousands of ballots still need to be counted, but said if Bjorkman comes out ahead, he “wish(es) him the very best.” Presenting yourself as a political candidate, Babcock said, is about making a case to voters about why you’d be the best representative. In the event that he doesn’t win, Babcock said he plans to continue enjoying the Kenai Peninsula with his family.

“You make your case and work as hard as you can … and then the voters get to decide,” Babcock said. “I always respect the will of the voters.”

State Senate District D, which includes the Kenai/Soldotna area and covers the northern half of the Kenai Peninsula with borders extended to above Tustumena Lake. That district is currently represented by Sen. President Peter Micciche, who announced earlier this year that he would not run for reelection.

State House District 8 includes the Kenai Peninsula north of Tustumena Lake and east of Kasilof. It includes Bear Creek, but not Seward, which is in State House District 5 and State Senate District C. That district is currently represented by Ben Carpenter, who is running unopposed for reelection. Preliminary results show that voters in that area cast 187 write-in votes.

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.

A full election timeline, as well as the first-choice 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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