What we’ll be watching for tonight

The Midtown Mall early in-person voting location. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

The most important thing to know is that we won’t know everything tonight… though since when have we known everything on election night in Alaska? Last time around, the balance of the House hinged on a single vote after many days of counting, recounting and legal challenges… and even then the balance of the House wasn’t decided until a month into the legislative session.

This year, we’ll be waiting on at least 123,222 early and absentee votes that won’t be counted until Nov. 10. Does that mean we need to wait until then to start declaring races? Probably, but we can make a few educated guesses about where things are heading from tonight’s results.

This will be our only update for tonight. We’ll have a follow-up breaking down the numbers and what’s left to be counted on Wednesday. Honestly, take care and try to not watch too much news tonight.

(Oh, and typically start seeing results released by the Alaska Division of Elections about an hour after polls close at 8 p.m., just in time to feel really panicked by the national results.)

What will be included in the results tonight: Nearly every vote cast today as well as another 37,995 ballots cast through Thursday via early in-person voting. The numbers we have on those early in-person ballots give Republicans a numbers advantage over Democrats and, at least going by the primary, in-person election-day voting tends to be more conservative.

What won’t be included in the results tonight: Those 123,222 votes mentioned above, which include absentee by-mail voting, in-person absentee voting and in-person early ballots cast after Oct. 29. Democrats actually hold a slim numbers advantage in absentee voting, which is significant given there are so many fewer Democrats than Republicans.

Another thing we won’t know right away: Democratic numbers have been high so far but the big question we don’t really know is just how much of that is people shifting their voting from election-day voting to early or absentee voting and how much could be a surge in turnout. Early voting crossed the 50% threshold of 2016’s turnout as of Monday, which means that despite the pandemic and many efforts to boost early and absentee voting a majority of votes could be cast today.

What that means: Simply put, we expect tonight’s electorate to be somewhat more conservative than typical with a wave of progressive votes coming later. A progressive who closes tonight ahead of their Republican opponent or within a few points ought to feel pretty good about where things might head next week. In most cases, it’ll take a blowout victory favoring the conservative candidate—akin to what we saw in the primary when several “moderate” Republicans trailed by 40+ points on election night—for the conservative to feel comfortable about the week ahead.

The races we’re watching: Let’s be honest that we’re largely interested in the outcome of the legislative races for the impact on the Legislature for the next two years. While congressional races are great and incredibly expensive, they don’t have any direct hand in the state budget, education funding or the Alaska Marine Highway. So, in no particular order, here are the races we’ll be checking in on tonight:

  • House District 27: A rematch between Democrat Liz Snyder and Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt has turned into the most expensive legislative race in recent memory with more than $750,000 raised and spent by the candidates and third parties trying to influence the race. It’s probably Democrats’ best chances of flipping a seat given it’s more Democratic than 2018 while Pruitt has leaned further to the right. Snyder has also been campaigning for longer and has far outraised Pruitt.
  • House District 1: The race for the downtown Fairbanks seat between Republican Rep. Bart LeBon and Democrat Christopher Quist wouldn’t really be on our radar, but we’ve been reminded that the numbers in House District 1 are pretty favorable to Democrats (having gone heavily Democrat down the 2018 ticket before giving LeBon a single-vote victory). Independent expenditure groups shifted their funding here.
  • Senate District B: Who will replace Republican Sen. John Coghill? Will it be Robert Myers, the far-right Republican who narrowly beat Coghill in the primary, or independent Marna Sanford, who serves on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly? Sanford is well-liked and has performed much better at the forums.
  • House Districts 15, 22, 25 and 28: These are the three other Anchorage-area House districts where things could be promising for progressives if turnout goes in their favor. It’s Republican Rep. Mel Gillis against Democrat-backed independent Calvin Schrage that has us most intrigued as it’s been narrowly won by Republicans in recent years while Democrats ran less-than-stellar candidates. The other races have what are likely outside chances of flips.
  • House District 6: As one of the largest legislative districts in the country, House District 6 reaches from Denali through the Interior villages, makes a stop in Fairbanks and then heads onto the Canada border. It’s been pretty conservative with the urban parts of the district dominating the vote but this year has a crowded ballot. Republican Mike Cronk, who was caught ahead of the primary election wearing black face, has ran an anemic campaign and is boxed in from the right by undeclared candidate Elijah Verhagen. Democratic Julia Hnilicka has all the makings of a promising candidate and a strong campaign to boot, but it’s still hard to go up against difficult underlying numbers.
  • House District 23, House District 36 and maybe House District 5?: If Republicans are to make any pickups this election, these would be the districts they would hope to do it in. I don’t give much credence to the rematch between House District 5 Democratic Rep. Adam Wool and Kevin McKinley, but Republican donors seem to think so. Same goes for racist Republican candidate Leslie Becker in her races against nonpartisan Dan Ortiz. House District 23, which is held by Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck is another target largely given his lackluster fundraising and campaign efforts (which never seems to get him), but faces a three-way race against the Kathy Henslee, who’s run a blunder-filled campaign, and Alaskan Independence Party candidate Timothy Huit.

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