FAIRBANKS — The two races at the top of this year’s ballot with some of the biggest implications for Alaska are also the races that are, by most accounts, far too close to call.

There are nearly 50,000 absentee, early and questioned ballots left to be tallied. But that hasn’t stopped many across the state from crunching the numbers based on uncounted absentee, early and questioned ballots, and the News-Miner is no different.

Somewhere in those 50,000 ballots, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich likely hopes to see a surge that will help him overcome a 8,000 vote deficit against Republican Dan Sullivan set on Tuesday.

And those votes also will determine who’s the next governor. Independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker leads Republican Gov. Sean Parnell by nearly 3,200 votes.

The Alaska Division of Elections will begin counting outstanding votes on Tuesday.

According to a News-Miner analysis of the uncounted votes, the Republicans in those two races are expected to pick up more votes than their challengers, but it won’t be enough to change the outcome of either race.

Both Sullivan and Walker are anticipated to maintain their leads, according to the latest available election information on Saturday night.

Senate

In the race for the U.S. Senate, Sullivan currently has 110,203 votes to Begich’s 102,054. Sullivan is anticipated to pick up 24,363 more votes and Begich is anticipated to pick up 22,366 more votes.

That leaves Begich with a wider gap than he saw on election day, at a 10,146 vote deficit.

Supporters are quick to point out Begich fared well in his 2008 victory over former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, rising from a 7,000 vote deficit to a 3,000 vote victory after absentee ballots were counted.

This number could potentially shift in Begich’s favor if there’s a surge of absentee ballots from Democratic-leaning rural districts that heavily favored the Democratic incumbent on Tuesday. But the total number of outstanding ballots is smaller than in 2008.

The deadline for absentee by mail ballots to be received if they’re mailed from within the country is Nov. 14. It’s Nov. 19 if they were mailed from outside the country. That pool is dwindling and currently stands at 10,802, according to the Division of Elections.

Governor

In the race for governor, the trailing candidate is expected to pick up more votes from uncounted ballots than his opponent, but it’ll just shrink the gap, not overcome it.

On election night, Walker and his Democratic running mate Byron Mallott had a narrow lead over Parnell and Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. Walker’s “Unity Ticket” tallied 107,395 votes to Parnell’s 104,230 votes.

Parnell is anticipated to gain slightly more votes than Walker when the votes are counted. He’ll pick up 23,400 to Walker’s 23,316, a slim 84 vote gain and well short of what he needs to catch up to Walker.

The final anticipated count for the governor’s race puts Walker at 130,711 to Parnell’s 127,630.

Methodology

The analysis was reached by taking each group of absentee, early and questioned ballots and dividing them based on trends seen in already-counted absentee, early and question ballots for each district.

Click here to see the raw information and the analysis on Google Spreadsheets.

For example, Begich won 62.5 percent of early ballots cast in House District 1, so he’s expected to receive 46 of the 73 uncounted early votes in that district.

When a trend was not available either because no questioned ballots have been counted or as is the case in rural Alaska, where some districts have not yet counted absentee ballots, the outstanding votes were divided based on the trends seen on election day.

Conventional wisdom is that early voting will skew away from the general population that heads to the polls. Depending on who you ask, those voters will be Republican-leaning or Democratic-leaning.

That does appear to be the case at least in Fairbanks. In the same House District 1 mentioned above, Begich fared much worse in already-counted absentee ballots, earning just 37.5 percent of those ballots.

So Begich is anticipated to only get of 167 of the 444 absentee votes in House District 1, while Sullivan will take 266 votes.

However, the trend doesn’t appear to be strong statewide, at least with the uncounted ballots the Division of Election currently has in hand.

The News-Miner’s weighted analysis is within 100 votes of non-weighted analysis performed by the Alaska Public Radio Network on the U.S. Senate Race.

Campaign responses

The campaigns have stayed mostly tight-lipped since Tuesday came to an end with no clear winners, and most campaigns have declined comments but released statements saying they’ll wait until all the votes are counted.

The Walker campaign sent out a campaign email to supporters on Friday titled “Crunching Numbers,” saying “Statisticians from around the state are crunching the numbers and predicting a victory for the Walker Mallott Unity Team.”

What's next

Whether these numbers hold true has yet to be seen. Absentee ballots will continue to trickle in throughout the state and races will be determined largely on where those ballots come from. If those ballots come in from rural Alaska, they’ll favor Begich and Walker, while many urban areas will favor Sullivan and Parnell.

The next update to the vote tally is expected on Nov. 11, when the Division of Elections counts the remaining early ballots (there are 2,651 of those left) and some absentee ballots (there's a total of 31,236 of those left). Absentee and questioned ballots (a total of 15,693) will be counted on Nov. 14, Nov. 17-19. The target for the election to be certified is Nov. 28. 

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544. Follow him on Twitter:

@FDNMpolitics.

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