Initiative to overhaul Alaska elections jumps to narrow lead after Thursday’s ballot counts

An envelope with a division of elections address is placed in a mailbox
A voter mails an absentee ballot in October. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

A new round of vote-counting Thursday put the citizens initiative to overhaul Alaska’s election system on track to win.

After officials counted another 35,000 votes, Ballot Measure 2 has a tiny lead of 500 votes, or less than .25%.

It’s not certain that the roughly 30,000 remaining uncounted ballots will follow the same trends as the ones counted Thursday. But if they do, the election initiative would win by thousands of votes.

Elections officials said they would continue counting ballots Friday.

Read full election coverage from Alaska Public Media

The citizens initiative would reorganize Alaska’s election system.

It would do away with the state’s multiple partisan primaries, replacing them with a single nonpartisan race in which the top four vote-getters advance.

In the general election, people would pick winners using a new system called ranked choice voting.

RELATED: An initiative proposes to overhaul Alaska’s elections. But not everyone thinks they’re broken.

The system redistributes last-placed candidates’ votes to Alaskans’ second choices if no one reaches 50 percent in the initial count. Australia, Ireland, San Francisco and New York City all use versions of ranked choice voting, which has become a popular cause among reformers seeking to reduce political polarization.

The initiative would also require more transparency about donations to certain political influence groups.

Another key race that tightened sharply is the one for the state House seat representing the North Slope and the Northwest Arctic Borough. Kotzebue independent Rep. John Lincoln, who currently holds the seat, did not run for re-election.

Democrat Elizabeth Ferguson of Kotzebue was 400 votes behind independent Josiah Patkotak of Utqiagvik after Election Night. And North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. published a Facebook post this week congratulating Patkotak on his apparent victory.

But when roughly half of the outstanding ballots in that district were counted Thursday, Ferguson cut her opponent’s lead by more than half, to 150 votes. If the rest of the uncounted ballots in that district follow the same trend, which isn’t guaranteed, the race would be close to a dead heat.

That race is the latest in which absentee and other late-counted ballots have dramatically shifted the results, in a trend that political observers predicted.

RELATED: A torrent of Democratic absentee ballots could reverse Alaska’s Election Night vote counts

Election Night tallies strongly favored many Republicans, while absentee and other ballots counted in recent days have swung a number of races back toward Democrats. Candidates and political operatives said that Republicans were much more inclined to accept the risks associated with voting in-person on Election Day during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nathaniel Herz is an Anchorage-based journalist. He's been a reporter in Alaska for a decade, and is currently reporting for Alaska Public Media. Find more of his work by subscribing to his newsletter, Northern Journal, at Reach him at

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