Nearly two weeks after Election Day, leading candidates for the Kenai Peninsula’s state House and Senate races can finally declare victory.
The Alaska Division of Elections finished counting the absentee ballots received for several districts this weekend, including District 29, where Rep. Ben Carpenter is on track for reelection, and District 30, where newcomer Ron Gillham has secured the seat previously occupied by Rep. Gary Knopp.
There is still a chance some absentee ballots arrive from overseas before Nov. 18. But those would only amount to a few, if any, said Tiffany Montemayor of the Division of Elections. Results remain “unofficial” until certification later this month.
Election officials waited until a week after Election Day to start counting absentee ballots this year, which state officials said was to insure against double voting.
The outcome of local races have not changed since Election Day. But the margins between candidates have decreased with the updated counts, in some cases by several percentage points.
Absentee voters have trended more liberal than their day-of voter counterparts nationwide.
Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican who’s held the seat in House District 29 since 2018, won 65.2 percent of his district’s vote, a decrease of 8 percentage points from his Election Day lead. Still, he has over 3,000 votes on challenger Paul Dale, an Independent from Nikiski.
Carpenter said that although he’s been leading the race since Election Day, he is waiting to declare victory. As of Monday evening, he still had not made a statement about his unofficial win.
“I told people working on my campaign that we’re going to wait until all the votes are counted, and that’s what we’ve done," he said. "I’ve withheld making any statements about what I thought was going to happen in the election until we really knew how many votes were going to be cast and how they were going to be awarded to each one of the candidates in the race. I think we’re at that point, and it looks like the people have spoken.”
For his next term in office, Carpenter said he’s most concerned with balancing the state budget through measures like an effective spending cap.
In District 30, Gillham, a Republican from Soldotna, leads with 62.4 percent of the vote, a decrease of two percentage points from his prior lead. He’s ahead of Independent challenger James Baisden by more than 2,400 votes.
More votes were cast in both districts this year than in the last general election four years ago. But there were also more registered voters this year, so turnout remained about the same as in 2016 — approximately 66.3 percent in District 29 and 61.1 percent in District 30. In District 30, more voters voted absentee than on Election Day.
Sammy Crawford, of the Central Peninsula League of Women Voters, attributed the increase in voters to a couple factors. For one, young people turned out in droves in this election. In Alaska, there were over 12,000 more registered voters between ages 18 and 24 than there were in 2016.
Crawford also thinks a lot of Alaska voters were really excited about Trump. Locally, they were motivated by local platforms.
“Because District 30 had lost their candidate — he was killed, of course, in an airplane accident, Rep. Knopp — several candidates had run against him already and had already filed to run," Crawford said. "And they were promising a full permanent fund (dividend), and they were very clear that working just with Republicans was really important. So I think voters turned out. And, of course, everyone wants a full permanent fund, and so I think the caliber of the candidates brought a lot of people out. And, of course, the platforms also.”
In the Senate District P race, long-time Republican incumbent Gary Stevens, of Kodiak, is poised to defeat challenger Greg Madden, an Independent from Soldotna. With all votes counted in Districts 31 and 32, which make up Senate District P, Stevens has about 64.7 percent of the vote, a lead of 5,754 votes.
Districts 29 and 30 are diverging from most Alaska districts on Ballot Measure 2, regarding campaign finance transparency and ranked-choice voting. Statewide, “yes” votes have gained a lead as more ballots are counted. But in Districts 29 and 30, the “nos” are still winning, with 60 percent of the vote in both districts.
The “no” votes are also leading on Ballot Measure 1, which proposes a tax on North Slope oil production, both on the peninsula and statewide.