Republicans lead in majority of Alaska House seats, with potential for more

Ranked choice voting results may add to the Republican lead, with implications for House leadership

By: - November 9, 2022 2:05 am

The Alaska House of Representatives is seen in session on Wednesday, May 11, 2022, at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)

Republicans led 21 of the 40 races for Alaska state House seats in preliminary results early Wednesday morning and have a chance to take additional leads as more votes are counted and ranked choice sorting takes place.

The results increase the chances that Republicans will take over the House from a multipartisan coalition that has controlled it since 2017, but that remains uncertain. 

Republicans filled a majority of the House’s seats throughout the past six years, but divides within the Republican ranks caused some members to leave the Republican caucus for the coalition, allowing it to survive. 

Tens of thousands of absentee and early votes remain to be counted. If a race has no candidate with a majority of votes, it uses ranked choice voting, and the final sorting will not take place until Nov. 23.

That sorting will be most important for three Anchorage state House seats:

  • In House District 11, which covers the area around the Alaska Zoo, nonpartisan candidate Walter Featherly has 43.9% of the vote. His two Republican challengers combined have over 50%.
  • Incumbent Republican Rep. Tom McKay is trailing Democratic challenger Denny Wells, who has 45.1% of the vote in a district that includes Campbell Lake. Third-place Republican finisher David Eibeck has almost 15% of the vote. If he is eliminated and his voters’ second preference is McKay, the incumbent will win.
  • In the district that covers Government Hill and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, incumbent Republican Rep. David Nelson has just under 44% of the vote. He faces two Democratic challengers, one with about 36% of the vote, the other with about 20%. If the ranked choice vote consolidates that support, Democrat Cliff Groh, currently in second, will win.

Uncounted absentee and early votes could change the equation for those three races and several other close contests.

Among head-to-head races, none is closer than the one in western Alaska, where ballots counted through 3 a.m. Wednesday morning showed Democratic incumbent Rep. Neal Foster in a close race with Alaskan Independence Party candidate Tyler Ivanoff, the Shishmaref man who nearly beat Foster in the Democratic primary two years ago.

With 25 of 28 precincts reporting, Ivanoff trailed Foster by just 44 votes.

House District 13, in Midtown Anchorage, was the second-closest House race in the state. There, longtime Democratic incumbent Andy Josephson led Republican challenger Kathy Henslee by just 86 votes. That result could change as more votes are counted.

Also in Anchorage, Republican Forrest Wolfe led Democratic candidate Donna Mears by 135 votes out of 6,018 cast. That margin is also close enough that the result could change as more votes are counted.

In Fairbanks, Republicans and Democrats appeared likely to trade control of a pair of seats. Redistricting put incumbent Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins into a Republican-leaning district, and Republican challenger Frank Tomaszewski led Hopkins and a second Republican, Nate DeMars, with just over 50% of the vote on Election Day.

In downtown Fairbanks, incumbent Republican Rep. Bart Lebon trailed Democratic challenger Maxine Dibert, who had 47.5% of the vote in that district.

LeBon and fellow Republican Kelly Nash have more than 50% of the vote combined, which could help LeBon in a ranked choice sort, but Nash urged her supporters to not rank LeBon second.

In downtown Anchorage, redistricting placed Democratic incumbent Reps. Zack Fields and Harriet Drummond into the same district. Fields had 56.4% of the vote and was on pace to defeat Drummond.

Two former state legislators appear on course to return to the House. In Anchorage’s Taku-Campbell neighborhood, former Republican Rep. Craig Johnson has 53% of the vote; and in Eagle River, former Republican Rep. Dan Saddler also has 53% of the vote.

Post-election legal challenges could affect the makeup of the House as well, but those outcomes are even more uncertain than the result of vote-counting.

In House District 16, Democratic candidate Jennifer Armstrong has a significant lead over Republican Liz Vazquez, but Armstrong’s eligibility for office has been challenged in court, and a judge could disqualify her, awarding the race to Vazquez.

The eligibility of Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, has also been questioned by a lawsuit. A December trial is set to decide whether Eastman’s membership in the Oath Keepers militia group violates the disloyalty clause of the Alaska Constitution. 

As of Election Day, Eastman led a three-way, all-Republican race with just under 52% of the vote in his Wasilla district.

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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].