Uncounted ballots keep trickling in

Climbing vote tallies, up to 90,000, may end fears of election problems

Posted: Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The number of uncounted ballots in Alaska keeps growing as additional absentee and questioned ballots continue to arrive at the state elections division. There are now more than 90,000 ballots which have yet to be counted, according to Gail Fenumiai, elections division director.

That's making it look like several races are still very much in play, including incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and challenger Mark Begich, where Stevens leads by only 3,257 out of 224,057 cast so far.

The elections division expects to count much of the remaining ballots Wednesday, but with absentee ballots still arriving it's not even clear whether that will settle the race.

"There could be enough ballots left after Wednesday's count for the race to still go either way," said Bethany Lesser, press secretary for the Alaska Democratic Party.

Giving Democrats hope is where the ballots are from. Many are from early voting, and include 9,507 early ballots.

Many of those are from Anchorage where Mayor Begich ran strong, they also include substantial numbers from the Mat-Su, where Stevens won big.

Yet to be counted are more than 1,000 early ballots from Juneau districts, where Begich put up victories of 60 and 70 percent.

If the trends in early votes cast so far hold true, that could trim 504 votes from Stevens' lead, according to Empire calculations.

There's less information on which to base guesses on how the 60,950 absentee ballots and 20,178 questioned ballots may break, or even if they'll be counted at all.

The additional ballots added to the list of those yet to be counted mean the Alaska voter turnout now appears to be about 63.5 percent, up from the 45.2 percent it appeared on election day.

That should allay concerns raised by Homer blogger Shannyn Moore on the liberal Internet publications Huffington Post and Daily Kos in which she said "something stinks" and warned her readers there might be a stolen election.

Moore and others questioned why so few votes had been cast in Alaska, despite the hot races on the ballot, including the state's own governor on a national ticket.

Fenumiai called those concerns "erroneous."

"The turnout results people are looking at right now are just those people who voted at the polls," she said.

This year more than one-third of voters either cast a ballot by absentee or cast it early at an elections office, and those numbers could go higher.

Alaska is somewhat unusual in that ballots do not have to reach the elections division by the day of the election, as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. Ballots mailed from in the United States must reach the elections division by 10 days after the election. Ballots mailed from outside the United States must be received within 15 days of Election Day.

In addition, the number of questioned ballots continues to rise as many remote precincts on the North Slope, Interior and Western Alaska mail in their questioned ballots to be reviewed by election boards.

A dozen or more precincts have yet to have had their questioned ballots tallied.

The number of outstanding ballots could easily change several House races and one Senate race, in addition to the Stevens-Begich contest.

Rep. Don Young's lead over former legislator Ethan Berkowitz appears insurmountable, as does that of Cathy Muñoz over Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau. In the Mendenhall Valley 2,626 votes remain to be counted, while Muñoz holds a 466-vote lead.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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