Alaska’s hotly contested senate race is still up for grabs, as the number of uncounted ballots since Tuesday’s election have now doubled, state election officials said.
Alaska election officials said Friday that more than 81,000 ballots remain uncounted in the contest between Republican incumbent Ted Stevens and Democratic challenger Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage, who is trailing Stevens by 3,257 votes.
But the integrity of more than 18,000 ballots have been called into question by Stevens and Begich both of who are now seeking tens of thousands of dollars in donations from their supporters to pay for lawyers during a review process.
Additional absentee ballots expected to arrive within the next week. Gail Fenumiai, the director of the Alaska Division of Elections, said a majority of the uncounted ballots would be tallied by next Wednesday.
Absentee ballots and the ballots that have been called into question by the Stevens and Begich campaigns are set to go through a final count by Nov. 19-the deadline for absentee ballots postmarked Nov. 4, to arrive-and will be certified by Nov. 25. However, there is a possibility that whatever the outcome of the election both sides will file a legal challenge over the final results in state court, election officials believe.
Republicans and Democrats are watching the election, along with the still undecided senate races in Minnesota and Georgia, closely because the final outcome, if decided in favor of Democrats, will shift the balance of power in the senate to a filibuster-proof majority.
In Minnesota, a fierce battle between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken, an author and comedian, won’t be decided until early December.
Franken trails Coleman by 221 votes, down from 725 on Tuesday, according to unofficial results released by the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office.
That will lead to an automatic recount, which Minnesota state law says is triggered if the margin of victory is less than half of 1%. The recount will be conducted by hand and won’t begin until Nov. 19.
In Georgia, Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss and challenger Jim Martin are headed for a December runoff because neither candidate accumulated enough votes to pull above the needed 50 percent to win the race.
Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the United States Senate, was convicted by a Washington, D.C. jury two weeks ago on seven felony counts of making false statements on Senate financial disclosure forms related to $250,000 in gifts he received from oil-field services company Veco Corp. and the company’s former Chief Executive Bill Allen.
Several high-ranking Republicans called on the embattled senator to resign prior to Election Day. But Stevens, 84, refused, stating he would appeal his conviction.
If Stevens is declared the winner of Alaska’s senate race he will face an automatic ethics investigation and it’s likely his colleagues will secure the two-thirds vote needed to expel him.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told the Lexington Kentucky-Leader newspaper Oct. 29 that Stevens, now a convicted felon, “should resign immediately” to avoid expulsion.
“If he did not do that … there is a 100 percent certainty that he would be expelled from the Senate,” McConnell, told the Kentucky-Leader. “The Senate would have zero tolerance for the continued service of a convicted felon,” McConnell told the Kentucky-Leader.
But Stevens’ campaign officials said the senator wouldn’t step down.
On Thursday, Heather Rauch, Begich’s campaign manager, sent out an e-mail to Begich supporters seeking $50,000 for the campaign “so we can keep the campaign going until the final votes are counted.”
Mike Tibbles, Stevens’ campaign manager, sent out an e-mail to supporters in hopes of raising $75,000 “to cover the costs associated with the final vote counting and review of questioned ballots.”
On Wednesday, Begich said, “This race is far from over.”
“There could be 20 percent or more of the ballots in this election still to be counted,” Begich said. “We’ve heard numbers as high as 60,000 ballots still out there, including absentees, early voting, and question ballots. We will do everything possible to make sure every vote is counted. Alaskans deserve that.”
Meanwhile, there have been some Alaskans who have suggested that the election has been stolen, based on polls that showed Begich leading Stevens by double-digits going into Tuesday’s election. The surge came on the heels of Stevens’ felony conviction.
Shannyn Moore, who hosts a radio show in Alaska and blogs on The Huffington Post, wrote that the numbers favoring Democrat Begich and the huge turnout among early voters and an uptick in voters who registered as Democrats have lead her to question whether Alaska’s election “could have been stolen.”
“…The bizarre anomalies in polling and voting and reports from the field of ballots not being scanned on-site due to broken machines, could this election have been stolen?” Moore wrote.
Ivan Moore, an Anchorage pollster, said, “something smells fishy” about the election results in light of nationwide polling data that showed Begich leading Stevens, but he stopped short of suggesting malfeasance.
Begich also said the numbers don’t add up.
“In the North Slope village of Wainwright, the Division of Elections doesn’t show a single vote for me, while the Libertarian candidate got 90, the non-partisan candidate received 84 and Senator Stevens got 8,” Begich said. “That just defies common sense. I flat out won five of the other seven villages on the North Slope.”
The website FiveThirtyEight.com, which has been remarkably accurate in predicting the outcome of dozens of congressional and senate races, said “the emerging conventional wisdom is that there was some sort of a Bradley Effect in this contest — voters told pollsters that they weren’t about to vote for that rascal Ted Stevens, when in fact they were perfectly happy to.”
Nate Silver, one of FiveThiryEight’s pollsters, said when uncounted ballots are tallied Begich may “pull ahead” of Stevens and perhaps be declared the winner.
“Although Ted Stevens currently holds a lead of approximately 3,200 votes in ballots counted to date in Alaska’s senate contest, there is good reason to believe that the ballots yet to be counted – the vast majority of which are early and absentee ballots – will allow Mark Begich to mitigate his disadvantage with Stevens and quite possibly pull ahead of him,” Silver wrote in a blog post on the website.