On September 6th, 2008, the Anchorage Daily News is reporting that Congressman Don Young's lead over Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in the Republican primary for Alaska's U.S. House seat has now swelled to 239 votes after the count of absentee and questioned ballots from the last three House districts, all in Anchorage. This is particularly good news because Don Young is generally stronger in rural areas. This story also reported by KTUU Channel 2.
Update September 17th: Count of all outstanding ballots complete, Don Young declared the winner by 304 votes. Sean Parnell may request a recount. Most complete story posted by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Altogether, elections workers counted about 25,000 questioned and absentee ballots on Friday September 5th. The first batch of returns posted on the Division of Elections website about 5:15 P.M. showed Young's 151-vote lead shrinking to about 129 votes. But as the count progressed, his margin expanded to 172 votes, and the last returns posted about 12:30 A.M. had Young with 48,006 votes to Parnell's 47,767, a 239-vote margin. The third Republican in the race, State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Kodiak), had 9,856.
But still to be counted are an unknown number of absentee votes cast and mailed by voters from overseas. Those will be accepted until Wednesday September 10th. Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said an estimate of the number of such ballots already received may not be available until Monday. However, the majority of the overseas ballots will come from military personnel serving outside the United States, likely a plus for Don Young.
Congressman Young attended a fundraiser in Roslyn, WA, on Friday night, according to campaign spokesman Mike Anderson. But he e-mailed the following statement of reaction around 7 P.M. Alaska time:
"Tonight's updated vote count continues to give me a narrow lead in the Republican primary. While I am pleased to hold the lead at this stage of the process, it appears as if we won't know the final result for another two weeks.
"In the meantime, I am campaigning with the full intention of being the Republican nominee in the general election.
"While I am back in Washington, D.C. for the remainder of the 110th Congressional Session, I will be doing everything possible to move forward into the general. This includes contacting Alaskans in every region of the State, fundraising, and staying in constant contact with my campaign staff.
"There's a lot of work to be done in a very short amount of time. But I've done this many times before and know what it takes to conduct a winning general election campaign.
"The current Congressional Session is not scheduled to adjourn until late September or early October but I am confident that with the help of Alaskans I will be able to conduct a thorough and winning campaign.
"I remain confident the final results will give us a primary victory and we can move on to victory in the general election."
Parnell's campaign also e-mailed a statement Friday afternoon, before the vote updates began. "Given that the current difference in votes is so small, anything can happen and we remain cautiously optimistic about the results," Parnell's statement said.
But one more hurdle may remain. A recount is possible if the race remains close after the overseas ballots are counted next week. Under state law, the expense of the recount would be paid by the state if the difference between Young and Parnell is within 0.5 percent of the overall vote for the two. In this case, that would be around 500 votes. The current margin is well within the threshold and is likely to remain within the threshold even after all the overseas ballots are counted.
Either the losing candidate, or a combination of at least 10 qualified voters, could still request a recount if the difference is more than that, but would have to put down a $10,000 deposit on the cost, according to the law. The deposit can be refunded if the recount changes the outcome, or under certain other conditions. Close elections are a part of Alaska's political history; in one instance, an election was decided by a coin flip. Two years ago, Democrats Bryce Edgmon and Carl Moses ended the primary dead even, with 767 votes each. There was only one way to settle that race under state law, by lot. This time, it was a coin flip. And Edgmon won.
Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz, fresh off a primary victory over Diane Benson, licks his chops and patiently awaits the winner. Even though polls show Berkowitz to be more successful against Don Young than Sean Parnell, Berkowitz has scrupulously avoided stating a public preference. But while Sean Parnell helped Don Young to victory by fumbling away his lead, Young will get no such help from Berkowitz. Don Young will have to bring his "A Game" to the court each and every time he faces Berkowitz in debate if he wants to prevail.
Even then, that may not be enough.