Alaska could see a significant ‘blue shift’ once absentee ballots are counted after Election Day

A greater percentage of Alaska Democrats are voting by absentee ballot than Republicans and...
A greater percentage of Alaska Democrats are voting by absentee ballot than Republicans and independents.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 7:47 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaskans will see preliminary results on the night of Nov. 3, but a significant shift to left-leaning candidates could occur once absentee ballots are counted.

Ballots cast in-person on Election Day will be counted that evening. Early voting ballots cast through Oct. 29 will also be counted on Nov. 3.

But, tens of thousands of absentee ballots will only be counted one week after Election Day along with ballots cast between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. The Division of Elections will use that time to examine who voted on Election Day to ensure no one inadvertently voted a second time by mail.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of Alaskans are voting absentee. The Division of Elections reported on Tuesday that 124,359 Alaskans have requested absentee ballots compared to 56,515 Alaskans who voted absentee in 2016.

A total of 46,866 absentee ballots have already been returned to the division which must be postmarked on or before Election Day. Alaskans still have until Saturday to request an absentee ballot by mail.

The breakdown of who is voting absentee points to the potential for a “blue shift” after Election Day.

Just under 40% of registered Democrats in Alaska have requested absentee ballots compared to 21% of registered Republicans. Just over 17% of independents have requested absentee ballots in Alaska.

“I think we’re going to have a set of results on the night of the third and Republicans are going to go, ‘Yay,’” said Jim Lottsfeldt, a veteran strategist for mostly Democratic candidates in Alaska. “And then one week later, they’re going to count this mountain of left-leaning votes and they’re going to go, ‘oh.’”

Lottsfeldt pointed to the Republican primary race for Senate District L as an example of what Alaskans could see in November. On the night of Aug. 18, conservative challenger Stephen Duplantis led against moderate incumbent Sen. Natasha von Imhof by 85 votes.

Once absentee ballots were counted one week later, von Imhof had won the GOP primary by 281 votes.

The Washington Post published a list of nine states on Wednesday that will likely see the biggest shifts once absentee ballots are counted. The list included Alaska which could see gains for former Vice President Joe Biden after Election Day.

“That could well be true, but again, you’ll see a shift in the number of Republicans voting early,” said veteran GOP strategist Art Hackney. “So, all it means at the end of the day, when all that gets sorted out, is that your real Election Day is after they count all those [ballots] on Nov. 10.”

Republicans and Democrats are voting early in-person in roughly equal numbers. As of Tuesday evening, 7,259 voters had already cast their ballots since early voting began on Monday. A total of 1,850 Republicans, 1,826 Democrats and 3,298 nonpartisan and undeclared voters had already voted.

Because there are nearly twice as many registered Republicans than Democrats in Alaska, a greater percentage of Alaska Democrats than Republicans are voting early.

Lottsfeldt says that follows polling conducted across the state. He said 75% of Democrats had said they would vote early or absentee compared to 60% of independents.

“People who self-identify as Donald Trump voters feel very strongly that they will only vote in-person on Election Day,” Lottsfeldt said.

Independents could be a critical factor for many races in 2020, too.

Over 340,000 nonpartisan and undeclared voters are registered in Alaska which is 57% of the total number of registered voters in the state. Just over 56,000 nonpartisan and undeclared voters have requested absentee ballots.

“We have a lot of ticket-splitting in Alaska. So, take for example the presidential, independents are leaning towards Biden,” Lottsfeldt said about some recent Alaska polling.

Hackney disputes that. He believes some Alaskans may be uncomfortable disclosing how they’ll vote when pollsters call.

“They’re not going to tell you, for example, that they’re going to vote for Donald Trump, because they’re afraid that there are repercussions for themselves and their families,” Hackney said.

Some national pollsters question the “shy” Trump voter phenomenon and suggest much was learned by pollsters after the 2016 election.

A recent poll by The New York Times/Sienna College showed the Republican Party ahead in statewide races in Alaska but that it was a competitive year for Democrats.

Hackney said after more than 40 years in Alaska politics experience, the goal for campaigns is to now convince truly undecided voters in the final sprint until Election Day. “A huge percentage, maybe 20% of them, make that decision in the final 10 days,” he said.

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