Single in-limbo ballot reportedly gives Dodge lead in tied race, but race will head to recount regardless

Update: The Division of Elections has confirmed that the in-limbo ballot is marked for Dodge, but have yet to decide if it will count. The race was certified on Monday as a tie with a recount scheduled for Friday with a decision pending on the ballot.

The Fairbanks House District 1 race between Democrat Kathryn Dodge and Republican Bart LeBon remained tied 2,661 to 2,661 on Friday after the bipartisan State Review Board completed a hand review of more than 600 absentee ballots cast in the district.

The news kept the tantalizing possibility that the race—and the control of the Alaska House—could be decided by a coin flip, but Friday’s news didn’t come without a wrinkle. The Friday news release from the Division of Elections noted that the review was complete “with the exception of one ballot which is currently being investigated further to determine whether or not it will be counted.”

Though we have yet to receive official word on the status of this ballot (and the result has yet to be added to the online tally of the race), multiple sources familiar with the campaign said that it was reviewed over the weekend and awarded to Dodge.

It puts the race at 2,662 to 2,661.

The race is expected to be certified today.

State law only calls for an automatic recount if the race is tied, but candidates can request a state-funded recount within five days of an election’s certification if the race results are within 20 votes or half a percentage point.

When the results became tied last Wednesday (when a hand review of the non-absentee ballots turned up enough clearly intended but improperly marked votes to tie the race), the automatic recount date was set for this Friday, Nov. 30.

Still, regardless of the outcome we’re likely in for a long legal battle before the race is decided.

Republicans will certainly raise issue with how this election’s been run (and it’s kind of hard to blame them). Both the LeBon and Dodge camps were reportedly not alerted about the hand review of the non-absentee ballots last week, and the handling of this in-limbo ballot will also surely raise questions. (We’ve since received additional clarification about how the campaigns were informed about the ballot-counting process and this claim by the campaigns no longer looks to be valid.)

Division of Elections spokeswoman Samantha Miller told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that it was “loose with questioned ballot materials that had been placed in the emergency slot of the OS (optical scan) machine, but there was no questioned ballot envelope to account for the ballot.”

The precise details of this final ballot’s path from being cast to being counted is the precise sort of thing to base a legal challenge on.

The recount itself could also change the outcome of the already-close race (not to mention that by-mail ballots received after the already-passed deadlines can now be accepted again).

The recount in the 2012 election of Rep. Jonathan Kreiss Tomkins saw the Democrat’s lead shrink from 34 votes to 32 votes over Republican Rep. Bill Thomas. In 2016, now-former Rep. Dean Westlake extended a four-vote lead over Rep. Benjamin Nageak to eight votes after his recount.

That 2016 contest between Westlake and Nageak was also marred when a precinct allowed voters to cast votes on both the closed Republican and general ballots. That case eventually landed in the Alaska Supreme Court after a lower judge got creative with which ballots should count.

The race for House District 1 is more critical than ever. A LeBon victory would keep the already-announced 21-member Republican majority at a 21-member majority, while a Dodge victory would put the House into a 20-20 split with a majority to be decided by whoever blinks first.

Not only will there be the willingness to pit legal resources into such a legal fight over the race, but election procedure will certainly cast a shadow over the race and give fodder for Republicans.

As for the coin toss, we’ll still have to wait to see if that comes to fruition. We all remember the coin toss that put House Speaker Bryce Edgmon into office in 2006, but few seem to remember that the walrus/state seal medallion wasn’t flipped until more than a month and a trip to the Alaska Supreme Court after the primary.

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