When the lights at the Dena'ina Center shut down late Tuesday night, August 21, a few races remained uncertain. One of the few candidates in attendance at Election Central that night, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage), paced the floor, looking nervously at the results trickling in on the big board. The powerful incumbent, who caucused with the Democrats in the House Majority Coalition last session, was down. Aaron Weaver – a mostly-unknown photographer and former KTUU video camera operator who did little campaigning and did not expect results anywhere close to where the numbers landed at night's end — was poised to knock her out.
The turnout was lackluster. Just 585 residents of East Anchorage's 15th House District turned to the polls (just under five percent of registered voters). Weaver found himself in the lead by three votes – albeit with hundreds of absentee and in-person, early, and questioned ballots still to be counted. LeDoux told reporters that night that she remained confident; that her campaign had put a lot of effort into banking early and absentee votes. But that confidence did not lend itself to her primary-night pacing. Her vote deficit crept up to nine the following Monday night.
The Alaska Division of Elections offered additional news of the weird the same afternoon, announcing that they had “discovered some irregularities that prompted a second round of review of all absentee ballots from House District 15.” More than 50 percent (40 out of 70) of all ballots mailed out, statewide, and returned by the post office as “undeliverable” fell into District 15. Even stranger, “seven absentee ballot applications received for House District 15 [were] from people who state records indicated were deceased.” Two people contacted by the Division of Elections said they had not voted, and yet ballots featuring their names had been received, according to KTOO's Nat Herz. (Those two votes were ultimately tossed.)
A provisional count of the outstanding and questioned ballots took place on Tuesday and flipped the results. LeDoux now enjoys a healthy 113-vote lead. While this likely has cut down on the pacing, the Alaska Republican Party is seemingly not amused. "We certainly do not acknowledge Gabrielle LeDoux as a Republican candidate," State GOP Chair Tuckerman Babcock told the Anchorage Daily News. “These are felonies [and] somebody should go to jail for trying to cheat in an election.”
Babcock has been upset with LeDoux since she joined the Democrat-led House Majority, along with Republican representatives Paul Seaton (Homer) and Louise Stutes (Kodiak) and independent representatives Jason Grenn (Anchorage) and Daniel Ortiz (Ketchikan). He told KTUU's Rebecca Palsha that he's weighing options of running a write-in candidate against both LeDoux and Democratic challenger Lyn Franks.
“It's turned out to be a circus in the last few days,” Franks told me. The UAA educator spoke at a fundraiser hosted by Alaska Women for Political Action (AWPA) Tuesday night. She said KTUU had called her the day before and asked if she had heard about any of the voting irregularities announced by the Division of Elections. She hadn't. “So, every four hours, check your news feed,” she laughed.
“I'm not paying a lot of attention to the numbers except to see what's happening because so much is up in the air,” Franks continued. “Right now I'm focused on door-knocking and phone calls and continuing to talk to people in my district about the things that concern them. I've been listening what the people say, and that's what I want to focus on. I'm going to do the best job I can.”
Franks has a lot of ground to cover if Babcock acquiesces and the contest ends up a two-way race. LeDoux handily defeated her Democratic challenger in 2016, Patrick McCormack, by just under 36 points (1,490 votes). LeDoux also has a fundraising advantage with $37,126 cash on hand heading into the general and a controversial political action committee, Common Sense Conservatives, backing her. It's war chest currently weighs in at $5,560.89. Franks has just $152 in her pocket in the march towards November.
The election is expected to be certified on Saturday.