While the rest of the country has moved on from the 10-day old Nov. 4 general election, Alaska’s Division of Elections workers have been carefully counting thousands of absentee and questioned ballots cast during the election.
More than 220,000 votes were counted during the first round of vote counting immediately following Tuesday’s general election, but some 50,000 remained to be counted and the results of some key races in the state depended, or still depend on the final numbers.
The division has set a target election certification date of Nov. 28, a full 24 days after election days. While some have complained at the length of time it takes Alaska to certify its elections, we think the process is a good example of what can be accomplished in a state of Alaska’s size and diversity.
The Division of Elections has a daunting task, one that requires ensuring the votes from an off-the-road-system village of 50 count just as much as those cast by Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and Juneau residents.
It can take a long time for those votes to pour in and, as Sen. Mark Begich has said several times when pressed to concede in his race against Dan Sullivan — one that has been called in Sullivan’s favor, though all of the votes have yet to be tallied — every vote counts.
And Begich has a reason to drag his feet; those votes counted after election day have changed the course of a race in the past. In 2008, Begich was behind in the vote count in his race against Sen. Ted Stevens. He was declared the winner several days later by less than 4,000 votes.
In 2010 Sen. Lisa Murkowski won her seat as a write-in candidate and that election wasn’t called until 15 days after election day. Her opponent, Joe Miller, said the same thing to the New York Times then that Begich is saying now: “It’s never over until the count is done.”
While the race between Begich and Sullivan for the Senate has already been called by the Associated Press in Sullivan’s favor, there are other races in the state that have yet to be decided. Gubernatorial candidates Bill Walker and Sean Parnell are separated by about 1.6 percent or 4,000 votes. Walker holds the lead currently.
One unknown for the division is the number of ballots that were cast at the nearly 200 absentee in-person voting locations in the state, several of which were established in villages and rural areas for the first time in 2014.
That means people who’ve never voted.
While Gail Fenumiai, elections director, told the Alaska Dispatch News that many of those had arrived at regional offices already, others may not arrive for days.
It can be frustrating, in an age of instant information, to wait for ballots to arrive weeks after an election has been classified as “over” in the minds of the general public, but it is part of Alaska’s charm that it works to make every voice heard, even if millions have to wait to listen.
We applaud the efforts of the Division of Elections and we hope they’re rewarded with a higher voter turnout as residents of the state learn that their votes can affect the outcomes of races that are important to the state.