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Monday Briefs December 8, 2008

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A few little items that didn’t really merit a post on their own:

  • The District 7 recount is scheduled for tomorrow.  Check here for news as it comes in.
  • The Sarah Palin clothing story resurfaced– the cost of the clothes is now up to $180,000, and the cost of her makeup was $110,000.  I really dislike this story- it feels so tabloid-ey. Even though I find the expenditure wasteful in the extreme and indicative of poor judgment, I’m not planning on bringing it up again unless someone brings charges or something.
  • A grand total of six Alaskans contributed to Obama’s transition fund.  One of them was my sister’s second grade teacher.  Alaska is a small place.
  • Ted Stevens has asked for a new trial in Alaska.  No clue if the request will be granted, but if it is, good luck finding an impartial jury here… at least that’s what Stevens is banking on, I’m sure.
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Ballots Will Be Hand-Counted In District 7 Recount November 28, 2008

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I got a call Wednesday afternoon from Shannyn Moore, a fellow Alaska political blogger who is particularly concerned with election accountability and transparency.  We talked about a few different twists and turns in this year’s election, and ended up talking most about the still-unresolved race between Mike Kelly (R) and Karl Kassel (D) in House District 7.

As you may remember, Kelly leads Kassel by a single vote.  This one-vote advantage had somehow been maintained through a variety of improbable circumstances, and Shannyn wanted to know if I had any insight as to what exactly was going on.  The Division of Elections had posted a press release on their website in an attempt to explain the state of the race, but the document wasn’t exactly easy to follow.

After talking with Shannyn, I decided to head down to the Division of Elections to see if someone there could explain it more clearly.  I ended up talking to Shelly Growden, the state Election Systems Manager.  She was able to shed a little more light on the subject- here’s the timeline she gave me:

  1. After almost all votes were counted, Mike Kelly had a one-vote lead over Karl Kassel.
  2. After the final 49 absentee ballots were counted, Karl Kassel had a two-vote lead over Kelly- a three-vote swing.
  3. After all the ballots were counted, election officials in Juneau went about verifying the number of ballots cast in District 7 precincts, and found that in two cases, the number of ballots cast did not match the number of signatures in the election book.  The State Ballot Review Board recounted the ballots in these precincts (Farmer’s Loop and Goldstream #1) and found that there was no actual discrepancy between the number of ballots and the number of signatures, meaning that a few ballots were improperly fed to the machines in the initial count and were either counted twice or not counted at all.  The net result of the State Review Board’s limited recount was that Kelly netted a three-vote gain on Kassel, thus shifting the race back to its original one-vote margin in Kelly’s favor.

We’re obviously headed for a recount in this race, and the somewhat questionable accuracy of the machines (what with the double-counting and undercounting in the two precincts in question) led me to ask Growden if the Division of Elections is planning to do a hand count of the ballots come recount time.  She reassured me that the ballots will be recounted both by machine and by hand, and that despite the hand counting taking a while, they expect the recount to be completed in one day.  Needless to say, I was very happy to hear that they’ll be doing a hand count.

She also said that the recount will likely take place on the 5th of December, as it has to be 30 days after the election itself.  Mark your calendars, because that might be the day this year’s election finally ends.

District 7 Thriller: Conflicting Reports November 25, 2008

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UPDATE 11/26 9:49 AM: Got word late last night that apparently the Dems jumped the gun- the totals DID have Kassel up 2, but then the Div. of Elections discovered a counting error in a couple of precincts that swung the totals back, by an odd coincidence, to +1 for Kelly.  So that’s that.
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The Alaska Division of Elections reports that with all ballots counted (including the final 49 absentee ballots from overseas), Mike Kelly (R) still holds a one-vote lead over Karl Kassel (D) in the race for House District 7.

The Interior Democrats, however, sent out an email today stating that, “With all votes in District 7 counted, Karl Kassel is up by 2 votes over incumbent Mike Kelly.”

Clearly someone is wrong here, and I wouldn’t bet heavily against the Division of Elections.  Either way, we’re headed for a recount.

District 7 Marathon: Done Before Christmas. Probably. November 21, 2008

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Apparently the final votes have come in for the Mike Kelly/Karl Kassel slugfest in House District 7.  Forty-nine overseas absentee ballots arrived by Wednesday’s deadline; those ballots will be counted Monday in Juneau.  After that happens, there will be a recount in December.  After the recount, the race will theoretically be over, providing that the losing party doesn’t entertain legal options in an effort to challenge the outcome.  I see that as unlikely.

Dermot Cole has the story and more details here.

Chilly, With 100% Chance Of Recount November 18, 2008

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 I went in to the state building this afternoon in Fairbanks to see if they were done counting ballots for the day (they were- in fact, from what I could tell they may have finished all of the Fairbanks area on Monday).  On my way in, I happened to run into Karl Kassel, who as you may recall is behind in his race against Mike Kelly by one vote.  I italicized there because it’s still difficult for me to believe that I would ever see a race decided by one vote, even locally.

In any case, Kassel said he’s, “Hanging in there,” and although he didn’t tell me what his business in the state building had been, I would bet you a box of uncounted ballots that he was looking into the official process to get a recount started.  

There will be more news on the District 7 House race before this is all over with- that’s a promise.

Sweeps Week November 17, 2008

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You might think that the week two weeks after the election is a dull week in politics.  This year, you’d be very wrong.  In addition to national happenings, such as the selection of President-elect Obama’s cabinet, the ongoing economic crisis, and some pretty tough back-and-forthing among members of the GOP about who is actually responsible for the party’s collapse on election day, there are quite a few significant events which will take place this week.  Here’s the rundown as I see it.

  • Monday will see more ballot counting by state elections officials. 24,000 ballots are still outstanding, and the plan is to count almost all of them tomorrow.  A few close local races will likely be decided on Monday, and Alaska’s U.S. Senate race could be as well.  This could be good news for both Republicans and Democrats on the national level, because of what happens Tuesday.
  • Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate will meet (in separate caucuses, of course) to determine assignments for the new Senate.  If the outcome of the Alaska Senate race isn’t determined by Tuesday, the Republicans will face the unpleasant question of whether or not to eject him from the caucus (as some Senate Republicans have suggested they will attempt) in the event that he wins his race.  The Republicans are understandably uneasy about doing this to an elder statesman of the party, but many feel they have no choice after Stevens’ felony convictions.  Realistically, while they would like to keep the seat, many Senate Republicans would count a Begich win as a mixed blessing, as it would spare them a difficult decision about one of their party’s most senior figures.
  • In the Democrats’ Tuesday meeting, they will decide whether or not to let fairweather Dem Joe Lieberman keep his important chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee.  If they decide to let him keep it, the internet will explode with the fury of a million (this number is probably not an exaggeration) liberal bloggers who insist Lieberman must be punished for deserting Obama (who, ironically, helped campaign for Lieberman in his Senate race) and campaigning for McCain.  Lieberman actually spoke against Obama at the Republican National Convention, so if the Democrats let him keep the chairmanship, it probably means bad things about their collective political will.  On the other hand, if they strip Lieberman of his chairmanship, he is left in a bind about whether or not to defect to the Republicans, who are currently in the minority and can’t offer him much in the way of powerful positions.  All right, enough national news, it’s back to Alaska.
  • Also Tuesday, the Division of Elections should effectively finish counting ballots, though a few may trickle in on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday is the last day ballots can be received by the Division of Elections and still be counted.  Almost all races in the state (except for House District 7 between Kelly and Kassel, with its one vote margin) will be decided on Wednesday if not before.
  • Thursday and Friday… uh… okay, I don’t really have much for Thursday and Friday.  Oh yeah, if you’re a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, there are the student Senate elections on Thursday and Friday, but if you’re not a student, there’s really no reason for you to care.  In fact, even if you ARE a student, there’s really very little reason to care, as every seat has only one candidate running for it.  There’s even one seat- Senate Seat P- for which NO candidates will be on the ballot.  To highlight this travesty of disinterest in government, and also to make light of Alaska politics in general, I’ve started a campaign to write in Vic Vickers for ASUAF Senate Seat P.  As far as I know, Vic has no idea he’s a candidate, which will make my call to him on election day if he wins all the sweeter.  Who says politics can’t be fun?

All right, I’m done here for the night… check back on Monday to discover what I’ve been doing with my time such that I don’t update more often!

Alaska Is Different: Your Vote Counts November 14, 2008

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Division of Elections officials resumed counting ballots today, and trends with the ballots today largely followed the pattern established on Wednesday, with Mark Begich extending his lead to over 1,000 votes over Ted Stevens and leaders in other close races continuing to pad their margins.

There was one exception to the general lack of Friday drama, however…

In House District 7’s race, challenger Karl Kassel narrowed the gap between himself and Mike Kelly to… wait for it… ONE VOTE.  The count now stands at 4999 votes for Kassel, 5,000 votes for Kelly, and 36 write-ins.  If you ever wondered whether or not your vote could make a difference, look no further.

It’s important to note that it’s still possible for a few more absentee votes to trickle in before the Nov. 19 deadline, so the ending margin likely won’t be just one vote.  Also, no matter who is ahead after counting finishes, a recount appears inevitable.  Still, this race is a perfect example of exactly how important it is to perform your civic duty.

Ballot Counting – Interlude November 13, 2008

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Division of Elections officials count questioned ballots Wednesday.

Division of Elections officials count questioned ballots Wednesday.

Yesterday’s flurry of activity which saw Stevens lose the lead in his race when the day’s counting shifted the total by over 4,000 votes in Mark Begich’s direction.  Today is a day of comparative quiet, the “calm before the storm”.

The state will be counting ballots again tomorrow (Friday)- they plan to count the districts that they didn’t do on Wednesday. These are mostly in Anchorage, and all of them are districts that Begich won on election day. So it looks pretty good for Begich and a bit dire for Stevens, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a recount demand and/or a lawsuit from the trailing party once all the ballots are counted.

The state will also be counting any at-large absentee ballots that have arrived between Wednesday and Friday, as well as any questioned ballots whose veracity has been determined. Those could go either way, and might even end up changing the balance in local races, such as the Kelly/Kassel race in District 7, where Kelly is hanging onto a 32-vote advantage.

The only people not holding their breath today are elections officials themselves, as they make determinations about questioned ballots under the watchful gaze of both Begich’s and Stevens’ campaign representatives.

Ballot Counting Liveblog #3 November 12, 2008

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According to the Republicans’ spreadsheet, Scott Kawasaki has picked up 193 votes, pushing his margin over Sue Hull to around 250. Kawasaki now has a little breathing room, and it’s difficult to see his race changing direction.

Early votes pushed Karl Kassel to within 32 votes of Mike Kelly, which is where that race stands. It’s a razor-thin margin and we’ll see if it holds.

The last ballots are being tallied in District 12, after which the Fairbanks region’s tallies will be complete and the state election results will be updated at the Division of Elections website. After that it’s all waiting for Anchorage’s numbers.

Debate #2: Kelly vs. Kassel October 28, 2008

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The following is part of a story I did for the UAF Sun Star on the second round of State House debates.  This portion covers the debate between Mike Kelly and Karl Kassel for House District 7’s seat.

Mike Kelly (R) and Karl Kassel (D) traded jabs in their debate, with incumbent Kelly mostly playing defense.  Kelly and Kassel are contesting House District 7’s seat in one of this year’s hardest-fought local races.  Kelly is a former president of both GVEA and the university’s Board of Regents.  Kasssel has just retired from a position as director of the borough’s Parks & Recreation department, and formerly served as president of the Alaska Dog Musher’s Association and the Yukon Quest.

Kelly and Kassel differed on the majority of the issues under discussion, including aid for Alaska’s college students.  Kassel stated his firm support for need-based financial aid for students meeting merit requirements, saying that, “We can’t let people fall through the cracks.”  Kelly was much more stand-offish with regard to student aid, saying, “I’ll listen, but I’m skeptical.”

Kassel attacked Kelly for many of his actions in Juneau, citing Kelly’s opposition to the state energy rebate and his attempt to stop the legislature’s Troopergate investigation from disclosing its findings.  In response, Kelly staked out a position that echoed Republican presidential candidate John McCain- that he voted based on his principles, which often made him unpopular among his colleagues.

The two also sharply disagreed on whether the pending gas line contract should include project labor agreements, or PLAs.  Kassel spoke in favor of the agreements, saying that they provide for fair wages and help ensure local hire.  Kelly came out against PLAs, stating that he feels they unfairly favor unions.

Kelly and Kassel’s exchanged their strongest words over Kelly’s controversial stance in opposition to a domestic violence bill.  The bill established stronger penalties for a third conviction on domestic assault charges, and Kelly was the only legislator in opposition.  “We’ve got to take action, we’ve got to move forward,” said Kassel, “And 59 to one says a lot to me.”  Kelly responded that he voted against the bill because he felt its language was overly complex. 

Audio of Kassel on Kelly’s opposition to the domestic violence bill:

I’ll put up Kelly’s response as soon as I’m done processing the audio file.