Anchorage Assembly incumbent Ernie Hall has held his lead over write-in candidate Nick Moe, based on unofficial tally results Saturday night.
The new results, which include absentee and questioned ballots, show Hall leading by 318 votes. But the election’s victor remains unclear, as the total does not include Saturday’s hand-counted ballots.
Moe said there could be as many as 200 ballots in dispute, and he remains optimistic. Moe isn't ready to concede defeat until his campaign team examines every challenged ballot.
“There's still a lot to celebrate,” Moe said. “We led the most successful write-in campaign in the city's history. To be within two percentage points against an incumbent sends the clear message that the public process must be respected.”
According to the unofficial tally results released Saturday night, Hall had 51.92 percent of the vote. Write-in votes made up the remaining 48.08 percent.
Anchorage elections officials began hand-counting more than 7,000 votes Friday after concerns that some correctly marked ballots were missed counted. The counting continued throughout Saturday to decide the outcome of the West Anchorage Assembly seat as election officials, lawyers and volunteers packed into a humid room on the first floor of City Hall on what was a pleasant spring day in Alaska’s largest city.
Moe, 26, launched an ambitious write-in campaign against Hall after the assemblyman cut off testimony on a controversial ordinance designed to limit the power of labor unions that do work for the city.
On Monday, Moe's campaign requested that Anchorage conduct a hand-count of ballots up for grabs in the West Anchorage district. That came after the city released a statement saying it would not perform a hand-count unless the total number of write-in votes cast were equal or more than the number of votes for the leading candidate. The same release noted there could be “other circumstances” where the votes would be hand-counted.
Hall, the leading candidate, received only 93 votes more than the number of write-ins. The city clerk eventually agreed to a hand-count to determine if all votes were properly tallied. Moe believes he can close that small gap by assuring the city followed voter intent and counted variations of his name.
Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones employed a straightforward method to her count. “Write in. Bubble marked. Tim Moe. No count,” she said at one table, and different variations followed.
Two city employees sat across from two volunteers, one for Moe and the other for Hall. The city provided a list of acceptable and unacceptable variations of “Nick Moe.” Among the approved versions of Moe’s name were “Nic Moe,” “Nick Mow,” “N. Moe” and “N. Moo.” Just “Nick” didn’t make the cut, along with “Click Moe,” “Pick Moe” and “Tommy Moe,” among others.
But the municipal code is generous when it comes to how ballots should be marked. The use of cross-marks, "X" marks, diagonal, horizontal or vertical marks, solid marks, stars, circles, asterisks, checks or plus signs are all acceptable as long as they clearly indicate the oval or the square the voter desires.
Pat Munson, Moe’s attorney, lodged challenges against nearly each vote challenged by the city and thus not counted toward the total. Munson kept track of the challenges, and if Moe’s campaign decides there are enough to change the outcome of the election, they’re prepared to appeal the decision in court.
“Most of the votes that we’re seeing are votes for Nick and the voter forgot to fill in the bubble,” Munson said. “Those are the majority of votes that were challenged by our campaign and not counted. If there’s enough of those votes, then we’re seriously considering going to court so a judge can decide.”
Regardless of the outcome, Munson said, the process has improved in the two weeks since the election. The city has been open about what needs to happen, and although there were disagreements, everyone’s working together, he said.
Scott Kendall, Hall’s attorney, was encouraged by the civility. He described the numerous challenges as “disagreements among friends.”
Kendall is familiar with the scene, as he represented U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski during her 2010 write-in campaign. GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller went to court to fight against thousands of questioned ballots during the hand recount. Miller lost that battle, with the court citing voter intent as paramount. And Murkowski prevailed in her write-in campaign.
Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com