Final U.S. House results won’t be available until Aug. 31 as officials wait for overseas votes

Officials won’t put the ‘ranked’ into ranked choice voting until all ballots arrive

By: - August 15, 2022 7:16 pm

Laraine Derr feeds ballots through a scanner on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, at the office of the Alaska Division of Elections in Juneau, Alaska. Derr was among elections workers counting ballots in Alaska’s special U.S. House primary election. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Final results for Alaska’s Aug. 16 statewide primary and the special election for U.S. House won’t be available until at least Aug. 31.

Alaska law allows ballots mailed from overseas — such as from soldiers and students — to arrive up to 15 days after election day, as long as they are postmarked on or before that day.

With ballots arriving as late as Aug. 31, elections officials here won’t pull the trigger on the state’s new ranked-choice voting system until all the ballots are in.

“The tabulation rounds will not take place until after all the ballots that are eligible to be counted on day 15 (are received),” said Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections.

Some preliminary results will be available starting late Tuesday night. Those will show the first choices of voters, and the division is planning an update on Aug. 23 and another on Aug. 26 before the final result on the 31st.

“We may have a count in between election day and day seven, and we will definitely let everybody know,” Fenumiai said. “It just depends on how many ballots have been reviewed and are ready to be opened and counted.”

When Maine implemented ranked choice elections, the process involved trucking ballots to that state’s elections headquarters. In Alaska, that’s not possible — there’s no road to Juneau.

Under the procedures used by the division, ballots will be scanned on Election Day, generating preliminary reports that will be released after polls close.

In urban Alaska, the paper ballots will be locked up and transferred to one of the state’s four regional supervisors, then picked up by contracted courier for a flight to division headquarters in Juneau. 

In rural Alaska, ballots will be sealed in envelopes that make it evident if they’re tampered with, locked in containers and shipped by the U.S. Postal Service using package tracking, signature confirmation and a signed check log, the division said.

In about one-quarter of the state’s voting precincts, paper ballots are tallied by hand, and those ballots need to be scanned in order to tabulate the votes on Aug. 31.

“In our testing, the actual time it takes to actually do the tabulation rounds is very quick. What is going to take time is that we need to get all those hand-count ballots back in from those 131 hand-count precincts in order to be able to (display) that ballot grid picture of the ranked choice voting race,” Fenumiai said.

The state verifies the results with a hand count of randomly selected precincts, but the hand count of the ranked choice voting results will be limited to only voters’ first choice, Fenumiai said.

The division won’t be verifying the rankings by hand.

“We’re only going to recount by hand the first-choice votes, because to do a hand count of a ranked choice voting race is very, very difficult and time-consuming,” Fenumiai said.

“To try to do a hand count using ranked choice voting would take weeks, if not months,” said Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, the elected official in charge of elections.

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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected]