GOP dominates early count with thousands to tally
As many predicted, the only thing clear after election night was the sky over Southcentral.
Democrats and independents trailed Republicans significantly in every statewide race and democrat candidates led just two state legislative races in which they had a Republican challenger as of this writing early Nov. 4.
Republican incumbents President Donald Trump, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young led their main challengers, former Democrat Vice President Joe Biden and independents Al Gross and Alyse Galvin, respectively, by at least 27 points with 81 percent of state precincts having reported results.
On the state level, well-established, incumbent Democrat legislators from several traditionally liberal districts in Anchorage and Fairbanks also trailed their Republican challengers as well. Anchorage Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a lead supporter of the oil tax increase proposed in Ballot Measure 1, trailed Republican challenger Madeleine Gaiser by 207 votes with all of the precincts having reported results Nov. 4.
Incumbent Republican and current House Minority Leader Rep. Lance Pruitt led returning Democrat challenger Liz Snyder by 1,092 votes, or nearly 23 points, the morning after election day despite beating her by less than 200 votes in 2018.
Fairbanks Democrat Reps. Adam Wool and Grier Hopkins also trailed Republicans Kevin McKinley and Keith Kurber by seven and nine points.
The early results could signal a sudden return to Republican dominance in the already red state; however, more than 122,000 absentee ballots and early votes will not be counted until a week or more after election day, according to Division of Elections. Division procedure calls for early votes cast within five days of Election Day to be counted seven days after the election and absentee ballots can be counted up to 15 days after Nov. 3.
With approximately 173,000 votes counted out of more than 595,000 registered voters, the large absentee and early vote tally likely means more than one-third of all votes — a pool presumed to be cast by a larger share of Democrats — still remain to be counted.
If the immediate results generally hold, a strong Republican majority in the state House and Senate would go a long way towards helping Gov. Mike Dunleavy achieve his fiscal agenda. While Republicans currently hold majorities in both chambers, several Republican incumbents who helped form a bipartisan majority coalition in the house or otherwise pushed back against Dunleavy’s attempts to make unprecedented cuts to the state budget either lost in primary races or won narrowly against candidates more aligned with the governor’s budget philosophies. That means even if there is a similar number of Republicans in the Legislature the makeup in 2021 is likely to be more conservative.
If Dunleavy and his supporters in the Legislature have the votes to advance their agenda — larger Permanent Fund dividends, no new personal taxes and a balanced budget — they will have to find numerous other ways to cut into and cover over a fiscal year 2022 budget deficit currently expected to be more than $2 billion without the historical backstop of significant state savings.
Ballot Measure 1, known as the Fair Share Act by its supporters, had received just 59,164 votes out of 168,261 votes counted through early Nov. 4, or about 35 percent of the vote. The citizen-driven initiative to significantly raise oil taxes on the largest North Slope fields was touted as a way for the state to start recouping revenue forgone since the Legislature passed the current oil production tax system known as Senate Bill 21 in 2013.
SB 21 then survived a repeal referendum in the 2014 primary election by a margin of 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent, or about 10,000 votes.
OneAlaska, the industry-led campaign coalition formed to defeat Ballot Measure 1, spent approximately $25 million on the campaign, compared to $1.3 million by Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share.
Ballot Measure 1 opponents stressed the higher gross and net taxes would further damage a primary industry in the state that was already reeling from collapsed oil prices — that briefly went negative in April — during a global pandemic that shows no signs of slowing.
ConocoPhillips Alaska leaders have said they are withholding decisions on future drilling plans until Ballot Measure 1 is decided.
Supporters insisted the measure would help the state recoup tax revenue more in line with its historical share and over time would likely contribute an average of approximately $1 billion of additional revenue to state coffers.
Ballot Measure 2, the elections reform initiative intended to tighten state campaign finance laws, combine state primary elections and move Alaska to ranked-choice voting, had received 43 percent of the vote as of early Nov. 4.
Known as the Better Elections initiative, the campaign and voting reforms were staunchly opposed by the Alaska Republican Party leaders and while the state Democrat Party did not formally endorse or oppose the measure, many longtime Alaska Democrats opposed it.
Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].