Hundreds of white ballot boxes lined the walls of the Region 1 elections offices Tuesday, while counters and observers pored over ballots cast in the Nov. 2 election looking for discrepancies.
A group calling itself Alaskans for Fair Elections requested the $10,000 recount last week in the U.S. Senate race between Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat. Murkowski defeated Knowles by 9,568 votes out of 307,371 cast. Democratic candidate Tim June, of Haines, also requested a recount in his bid against Republican Bill Thomas, also of Haines, for the seat representing residents of House District 5. Thomas defeated June by 76 votes. The District 5 recount cost $750.
The buzz of 20 electronic Accu-vote tally machines filled the room Tuesday as counters and observers worked intently at the office at the Mendenhall Mall.
Elections official Tom Godkin said all ballots voted by Accu-vote machines are recounted by machine, and 10 percent of Alaska's 439 precincts are being counted by hand. Machines detect ballots with votes cast for more than one candidate as well as those that do not contain a vote, and the division director makes a determination on how to count that vote, Godkin said.
Neither recount was completed by early evening Tuesday, but June, who attended as an observer, said he had unofficially gained about seven votes, with seven of 18 precincts not yet counted. He said he is concerned that Accu-vote machines might not have functioned properly. He said the interest by observers had dropped from Monday, when dozens of people turned out to watch the recount.
"Yesterday you could hardly stand up in this room," June said. "It was elbow to elbow. Both sides had large volunteer pools."
The District 5 recount will likely be completed today, according to Laura Glaiser, director of the state Division of Elections. She said it could be Friday or sometime this weekend before the U.S. Senate race recount is completed.
"We'll work through the weekend if we have to," she said.
Godkin said he was uncertain if either Knowles or Murkowski had gained any votes in the recount, adding the division wouldn't know until everything is finished.
Amy Paige, a recount observer with Alaskans for Fair Elections, said she had not noticed any large changes in the numbers so far. Paige carried her own tally sheet Tuesday as she walked from table to table, talking with recount officials and keeping tabs on which machines recounted the votes. She said seven observers with the group were present for the recount Tuesday evening. Paige said she had worked most of the day, arriving at the office at 8 a.m. when the recount commenced.
Stuart Sliter, a precinct chairwoman in Douglas, observed the hand recount in an adjacent room as she sat quietly sipping a diet Pepsi.
"Douglas was picked for the hand count and it was perfect," she said in a hushed voice.
When asked if she thought the recount would be completed by Friday, she said, "I hope so."
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.