The reason Alaska has still counted only half of its ballots

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After spending nearly a week glued to the election returns in battleground states that, as of Saturday, finally put President-elect Joe Biden over the top, many Americans are still left asking themselves, “What’s up with Alaska?”

So far the state has counted only half of its ballots, per Associated Press estimates, but the drawn-out count is, in fact, going according to plan, although that plan has been criticized by some state officials. Due to Alaska’s sprawling geography, officials count absentee ballots that arrive within 10 days of Election Day as long as they’re postmarked by then. If the ballots are coming from outside the U.S., they’re given 15 days to arrive as long as they have the appropriate postmark. (Last month the Alaska Division of Elections took to Twitter to rebut a claim that it delivered some ballots by dogsled.)

Once a properly postmarked ballot arrives, the state checks to make sure it isn’t a duplicate, meaning that a person voted by mail as well as in person. About 80 people voted twice in the state’s primary, but officials say all instances were accidental and no one’s ballot was counted twice. Because of the process used to ferret out duplicate voting, Alaska doesn’t begin counting mail-in ballots until well after Election Day, resulting in a longer delay than that caused by Pennsylvania’s rules that prevent mail-in ballots from being counted prior to Election Day.

“The division strongly believes in the legal requirement of one person, one vote,” said Gail Fenumiai, the director of the Alaska Division of Elections. “This should always take a priority over counting ballots quicker.”

“I don’t understand this, and I’ve increasingly wondered if it was political,” Mike Carey, a longtime political columnist in the state, told Yahoo News. “We only have three electoral votes and everyone knows where they’re going, but somehow we’re last in the United States. It’s very strange.”

Voters line up to put their ballots in a ballot machine at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion via AP)
Voters line up to put their ballots in a ballot machine on Election Day in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion via AP)

While President Trump is the clear favorite to win the state’s electoral votes, the intrigue in Alaska comes from the Senate race, where Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan was in a competitive and expensive reelection race against Al Gross, an independent who was endorsed by state and national Democrats. The race has been a wild one, featuring leaked videos of mining executives and a dispute over whether Gross had actually killed a bear.

“The dynamics of the Alaska Senate race at this hour remain in a state of flux. With approximately 44.6 percent of the ballots not yet counted, we believe we will win once every vote has been counted in the state,” Gross wrote last week on Twitter.

Gross currently trails Sullivan by nearly 60,000 votes, but if the mail-in ballots in Alaska break Democratic at the same rate they have in other states, it’s likely that margin will tighten significantly. The limited polling in the race showed a tight contest, but Senate surveys in a number of other states with results in have been found to underestimate support for Republican candidates.

Alaska also has a competitive House race, as GOP Rep. Don Young — the longest-serving member of Congress, having represented the state since 1973 — is facing real competition from Democrat-backed independent Alyse Galvin. Galvin currently trails by about 50,000 votes, having lost her 2018 bid against Young by 18,000.

North Carolina, where properly postmarked mail ballots can be accepted until Nov. 12, is also still counting, with both Trump and Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis positioned well to claim victory.


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