Update: A previous version of the story included today’s count for returned absentee ballots. The number as of Friday was 3,076.
When Gov. Bill Walker announced on Friday he had suspended his campaign and endorsed Democrat Mark Begich for governor more than 3,000 voters had already returned absentee ballots cast when Walker was still locked in a three-way race.
Begich faces improved odds of winning in November—FiveThirtyEight’s forecast now puts him just 3 points behind Dunleavy, improved from 12 points—but it’s still going to be a long shot to actually win, meaning the margin for error is razor thin (that same forecast has only downgraded the chance of a Dunleavy victory from a 5-in-6 to 2-in-3).
And though the timing of Walker’s announcement certainly benefited from having the stage at the Alaska Federation of Natives’ annual convention, it also came just as early in-person voting was set to begin on Monday.
That gives the vast majority of voters the time to consider how to vote in what’s essentially a two-way race (we say essentially because Walker is still on the ticket as is lovable Libertarian goofball Billy Toien), but it’s left some wondering about the people who’ve returned those 3,076 ballots.
On Monday, when the Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami announced that the organized labor group had pivoted from its earlier endorsement of Walker to an endorsement of Begich, he suggested that the group would be looking into what could be done with those early ballots.
“We are looking into–and I don’t know the answer yet, we haven’t discussed that with the Division of Elections–if folks who’ve already cast a ballot, if they can request a new absentee ballot or if they voted at the polls if that would supersede that,” he said. “That would be part of our effort is to make sure if there’s any way to change votes that have already been cast. If folks voted for Gov. Walker and would like to reconsider that, then we’ll find out if there’s a legal way for them to do that.”
In case you were waiting for an answer, we went ahead and asked. It’s a definitive no. Once a ballot is returned to the state, there’s nothing in state law that allows it to be changed or replaced said Division of Elections spokeswoman Samantha Miller.
“Unfortunately, there is nothing in Alaska law that allows the division to replace a ballot once it has been voted and returned to the division,” she wrote in an email. “The candidate withdrawal deadline for the 2018 general election ballot was Tuesday, September 4, 2018. No candidate for governor or lieutenant governor withdrew by the deadline and all candidate names are on the final ballot. A vote for any candidate for governor or lieutenant governor appearing on the 2018 general election ballot will be counted as a vote for that candidate.”
The only case where someone might be able to reconsider their vote is if they haven’t actually dropped the ballot in the mailbox (or returned it online as 295 voters have, and, just for the record, the single person who requested a by-fax absentee ballot has not returned it).
“If the voter has not returned their absentee ballot back to the division and still have it in their possession, they should contact the division’s Absentee & Petition office for a replacement ballot,” she wrote.
Early in-person voting began Monday at the state’s 188 early voting locations. The general election is Nov. 6.