By James Brooks
Alaska Beacon 

Election officials advise final vote count not until Nov. 23


November 9, 2022

Results will be slow, even in races that don’t use ranked-choice voting, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Gail Fenumiai, head of the Alaska Division of Elections, said at a press conference last week.

Through Sunday, just two days before the election, more than 64,000 Alaskans had already cast early or absentee votes, according to figures published by the Division of Elections. Many of those votes, plus others that come in before Election Day on Nov. 8, won’t be counted until after polls close.

Meyer said Alaskans should be prepared.

“I know that in 2020, a lot of people were suspicious. On election night, boy, they were ahead, they were feeling good, and then when all the absentees came in, the votes changed, and I just want to alert people that that’s going to happen again this year,” he said.

The number of mailed absentee ballots this year isn’t expected to match 2020, when more than 110,000 were cast that way, but it is expected to be high.

If someone votes in person on or before Nov. 3 at one of a handful early voting stations, their vote will be included in the Election Day total. Early votes after that date will be added later.

Many absentee ballots — including absentee ballots cast at an in-person polling place — will not be included in the Election Day total either. Those could show up as late as 15 days after Election Day, the deadline for absentee ballots to arrive from overseas.

This year’s elections will use ranked-choice voting, the same as the August special election to fill the remainder of the term of the late U.S. House Rep. Don Young.

If a race has only two candidates, the ranking process isn’t needed, such as the race for state House District 1 to represent Ketchikan and Wrangell. But if a race has three or more candidates and none receive more than half of the total votes, such as the race for a full two-year U.S. House term, the ranking and sorting will take place at 4 p.m. Nov. 23, after the deadline for the last ballots.

Fenumiai has previously said that the division deliberately scheduled the sort until after all ballots have been received. Some cities in the Lower 48 sort multiple times, releasing incremental results as ballots arrive and are counted.

Meanwhile, finding poll workers in parts of rural Alaska was still a problem a week before the election.

The Division of Elections has perennially struggled to staff polling stations in rural Alaska, and Fenumiai said this year is no different. As of Nov. 2, she said the division was still looking for workers in St. Mary’s and Goodnews Bay, two towns in Southwest Alaska.

In a new approach, the Division of Elections has been working with Get Out The Native Vote, a nonpartisan, multi-tribal campaign, to recruit workers.

Michelle Sparck, the group’s director of strategic initiatives, said the division is clearly well-intentioned, but it is difficult to find people who can be available to undergo training and work the polls in a small town.

“I think they really do earnest work. They put in a lot of legwork throughout the year. It’s exhausting to create these relationships,” she said.

She said that she has also reached out to tribal leaders and organizations to lend staff, if needed.

In rural precincts, ballots are hand-counted, then sent to elections officials through the mail. In August, ballot packages from six towns didn’t arrive until after the results were certified, effectively dropping those votes from the total.

To avoid a recurrence, Fenumiai said ballots will be mailed via express mail, and Sparck said she distributed flyers through the Alaska Air Carriers Association, telling the operators of small mail planes to watch out for those packages and prioritize them.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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