Begich Leads Stevens in Alaska Senate Slow Count

We all thought convicted felon Ted Stevens had been narrowly reelected to the Senate, presumably as a placeholder to keep the seat in Republican hands.  Not so fast!

Mark Begich made a dramatic comeback Wednesday to overtake Ted Stevens for the lead in Alaska’s U.S. Senate race. Begich, who was losing after election night, now leads Stevens by 814 votes — 132,196 to 131,382 — with the state still to count roughly 35,000 more ballots over the next week. The state Division of Elections tallied some 60,000 absentee, early and questioned ballots on Wednesday. The ballots broke heavily in the Democrat’s favor, erasing the 3,000-vote lead Stevens held after election night Nov. 4.

Stevens, a 40-year incumbent, is trying to become the first person ever elected to the U.S. Senate after a being found guilty of felony crimes.

The state still needs to count at least 15,000 questioned ballots and an estimated 20,000 absentee ballots that made it to the Division of Elections after election day last Tuesday.

This is a truly bizarre process.  After Stevens came out ahead on election night, we had the likes of Josh Marshall crying foul, questioning the counting process.  Now, if Begich holds on to his mysterious lead, Republicans will not unreasonably be calling this a stolen election.   (Ditto, incidentally, if Al Franken manages to win in Minnesota after all.)

There simply has to be a way to get the ballots all counted at once and counted only once.  The tally has to be final on Election Day, absent clear and compelling evidence of error.  Otherwise, we look like a banana republic, with the losing side in close races questioning the legitimacy of our elections.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    I think there will always be votes that are statistical ties. In those situations, we should accept that one winner is as good as the other … and here’s the key … that they should govern from the middle. No BS “mandate” for an extreme position.

    That said, Stevens is a loony GW denier and should go down.

    Franken is kind of a odd duck, but it might be funny if he’s someone else’s Senator.

  2. od says:

    Why is it so important that its done once and for all on election night? Election night everything is rushed, and like in any activity, errors are possible. Common sense says it makes much more sense to redo it in the case of close calls to make sure the person with the most votes wins. This isn’t a partisan issue, it goes both ways – and it happens in democracies all around the world.

    Having a recount is just part of having a democracy – the will of the people and all that, right?

  3. Andre Kenji says:

    EVERY four years I see Brazilians laughing and making jokes about the Elections in the US…

  4. G.A.Phillips says:

    That said, Stevens is a loony GW denier and should go down.

    lol, so much for all this middle talk.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:

    EVERY four years I see Brazilians laughing and making jokes about the Elections in the US…

    You should. And do you guys got any jobs down there? I’m thinking about moving will I can still get out of this country.

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    And can one of you smart dudes please tell me how to put a picture in again for when I post, I found a good one.

  7. Mithras says:

    The only thing that would make the counts go faster are hiring more staff and training them better, not grousing that they don’t do a good enough job. Unless you’re willing to appropriate more tax money to do that – which liberals have been asking for years – it’s never going to happen.

  8. The thing is, there is always counting after election day, it is just that we normally pay no attention to it, as the election day results are clear.

    And Minnesota, with its third party impulse, needs a run-off provision like GA has.

    In the AK case this year, I have little sympathy, as if Stevens had not taken bribes or had decided that maybe 40 years in the Senate was enough for anyone and let another Rep run, then we wouldn’t be in this mess.

  9. AnnieW says:

    The election counts are still far from final in most places. They only “call” the elections when it appears that there is no way a candidate or proposition result can change. This is why very few election results have been “certified” yet.

    In my county in CA they still have over 40,000 votes (absentee and provisional) that have yet to be counted.

    This doesn’t mean that the results aren’t posted by the State as 100% of precincts having reported, because technically, that’s true.

  10. odograph says:

    That said, Stevens is a loony GW denier and should go down.

    lol, so much for all this middle talk.

    Actually, it is. The middle rational position is explained by Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Science

  11. James Joyner says:

    Why is it so important that its done once and for all on election night?

    The problem is that we get results on the news based on the count. When one candidate is ahead with 100 percent of the precincts in and then another candidate — especially the candidate whose party controls the election apparatus — winds up winning, it’ll never be perceived as legitimate.

  12. HankP says:

    Alaska really is kind of different than the lower 48, from what I’ve read it takes some time for ballots to come in from their many small and remote towns. I agree that we really need to come up with a better way to count and verify ballots, but they do have geographical limitations that are beyond what any other state needs to deal with. Minnesota, on the other hand, really has no excuse.

  13. od says:

    The problem is that we get results on the news based on the count. When one candidate is ahead with 100 percent of the precincts in and then another candidate — especially the candidate whose party controls the election apparatus — winds up winning, it’ll never be perceived as legitimate.

    I haven’t noticed a lot of general discontent with re-counts turning over initial results. The only time it happens is when the race is super tight to begin with, and most people seem to understand why a recount might change it at that point – of course people from either party who go from winner to loser during the recount complain, but most people write that off as poor losers.

    I think if you had cases where someone was something like 10% ahead and then lost in the recount it’d be more of an issue, but I don’t think that happens (or only very rarely).

  14. Deanna says:

    IF Stevens does win we can expect Bush to pardon him before he leaves office which would leave him free to serve in his office because the Republicans are not going to remove him….unless they get Witless from Wasillia to replace him.

  15. Our Paul says:

    James, it strikes me that one of those sour grapes got stuck in your craw.

    To wit: Why is it so important that its done once and for all on election night?

    The problem is that we get results on the news based on the count. When one candidate is ahead with 100 percent of the precincts in and then another candidate — especially the candidate whose party controls the election apparatus — winds up winning, it’ll never be perceived as legitimate.( James Joyner | November 13, 2008 | 10:39 am) My italics.

    Consider what the Anchorage Daily News is reporting:

    The state Division of Elections tallied about 60,000 absentee, early and questioned ballots from around the state on Wednesday. The ballots broke heavily in the Democrat’s favor, erasing the 3,000-vote lead the Republican Stevens held after election night Nov. 4.

    The state still needs to count at least 15,000 questioned ballots and an estimated 25,000 absentees. With all the absentee votes coming in, this will be one of the biggest turnouts, if not the biggest in terms of ballots cast, the state has ever seen. That’s despite questions in the media and on blogs about why turnout appeared low on Election Day.

    Most regional elections headquarters will count their remaining ballots on Friday. But the most populous region, based in Anchorage, won’t count its ballots until either Monday or Wednesday, state elections chief Gail Fenumiai said.

    Begich pushed hard in the campaign for people to vote early, a factor both Democrats and Republicans said contributed to his surge. More than 9,000 of those early ballots weren’t counted until Wednesday to give the state time to double check and make sure people didn’t vote early and then come back and vote on Election Day as well.

    Finally, it is well known that a common Republican tactic is voter suppression by questioning voter’s credentials. The quoted newspaper article continues with:

    Also, Moore said, questioned ballots tend to favor Democrats, and are often people who have recently moved and might be single, less established, without as much money.

    Your argument clearly states that absentee, mail in, and provisional ballots should not be counted.

    Bahhh, humbug those who live by myths will die by myths. There are four regional judges supervising these counts, and rest assured that if there is any evidence of hanky panky Mukasey’s Department of Justice will jump in…

  16. James Joyner says:

    Your argument clearly states that absentee, mail in, and provisional ballots should not be counted.

    Nope, I’m saying that we should have a system where they don’t exist. I’d have instant or no registration, thus eliminating provisional ballots, and some form of instant voting that would eliminate mail-in votes.

  17. Andre Kenji says:

    ” You should. And do you guys got any jobs down there? I’m thinking about moving will I can still get out of this country.”

    If you have a major on Engineering, Computer Science, programming or anything that demands Mathematics you find a job easily.

  18. Floyd says:

    “”Otherwise, we look like a banana republic””
    “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
    YA THINK ???!!

    ################################################
    Andre;
    Tell me again…. Just how many IS a Brazilian??

  19. Andre Kenji says:

    “I agree that we really need to come up with a better way to count and verify ballots, but they do have geographical limitations that are beyond what any other state needs to deal with.”

    Even in the Amazon States of Brazil the results are in before 10.00 PM of the Election Day. And I don´t think that this area, where you have isolated areas under the jungle are better than Alaska.

  20. Andre Kenji says:

    “Tell me again…. Just how many IS a Brazilian??”

    180 million people in a area bigger than the so called Lower 48… 😉

  21. Floyd says:

    Andre; that was reference to an old Bush joke.
    But you know what they say, If you have to explain it……

  22. Our Paul says:

    James:

    Nope, I’m saying that we should have a system where they don’t exist. I’d have instant or no registration, thus eliminating provisional ballots, and some form of instant voting that would eliminate mail-in votes.

    You will get no argument from me. I was pointing out that your statement, which I italicized, had a touch of sour grapes to it. To wit:

    the candidate whose party controls the election apparatus — winds up winning, it’ll never be perceived as legitimate.

    Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com has it for Begish yesterday. Meanwhile, let us not forget the Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia, where the Dems still have pick up chances.

    Ah yes, the worst nightmare of the Federalist Society, a veto proof Senate, and a President who is a Constitutional scholar.

  23. Our Paul says:

    James:

    Nope, I’m saying that we should have a system where they don’t exist. I’d have instant or no registration, thus eliminating provisional ballots, and some form of instant voting that would eliminate mail-in votes.

    You will get no argument from me. I was pointing out that your statement, which I italicized, to wit:

    the candidate whose party controls the election apparatus — winds up winning, it’ll never be perceived as legitimate.

    had a touch of sour grapes to it.
    Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com has it for Begish yesterday. Meanwhile, let us not forget the Senate races in Minnesota and Georgia, where the Dems still have pick up chances.

    Ah yes, the worst nightmare of the Federalist Society, a veto proof Senate, and a President who is a Constitutional scholar.

  24. just me says:

    I bet Saxby wins in Georgia-if anything I don’t see the democrats getting the kind of turn out needed to help the democrat when Obama isn’t at the top of the ticket.

    I think Coleman’s seat is being stolen.

    I don’t know about Alaska-but it is one state where I can see counting ballots on election day would be difficult, and I won’t cry too many tears if Steven’s loses. I do have a hard time believing such a republican state has that many early ballots swinging the other way-I am curious to see the how those ballots are trending on the presidential and other party races.

  25. tom p says:

    Your argument clearly states that absentee, mail in, and provisional ballots should not be counted.

    Nope, I’m saying that we should have a system where they don’t exist. I’d have instant or no registration, thus eliminating provisional ballots, and some form of instant voting that would eliminate mail-in votes.

    “I’d have instant or no registration,”

    I am a little confused James, as to just what that means, please elaborate. In the meanwhile, your larger point seems to presume a perfect system. But all voting systems are now set up on the presumption that they will not be perfect…

    Which strikes me as very pragmatic as no system is ever perfect.

  26. tom p says:

    I think Coleman’s seat is being stolen.

    jm: on what evidence?

    I ask this because elections are always a little sloppy… except in places like China, the USSR, Saddam’s Iraq, etc…

  27. just me says:

    Because of how the corrections were made (all entirely in Franken’s favor), because somebody just happened to have some ballots in their car etc etc etc.

    This is Washington State all over again.

    I also find it interesting that elections that are close, the democrats somehow manage to pull out the right number of votes to take the victory. The 2000 Florida election is the only one I know of where that didn’t happen, but had Gore had his way, with the recounts only occuring in heavily democratic and democratically controlled elections boards, I often figure they would have figured out a way to steal that one too.

  28. tom p says:

    Jm:

    Because of how the corrections were made (all entirely in Franken’s favor),

    C’mon, look at where the votes are coming from…

    because somebody just happened to have some ballots in their car etc etc etc.

    for a total of 12 votes. I do not think this election will turn on 12 votes. As to the “etc, etc,”??? What “etc etc”???

    This is Washington State all over again.

    I admit my ignorance…

    I also find it interesting that elections that are close, the democrats somehow manage to pull out the right number of votes to take the victory.

    Not knowing the full history, I hesitate to say, but this sounds really strange after the past eight years, especially in light of the US Attorneys purge of 2006/7…

    The 2000 Florida election is the only one I know of where that didn’t happen, but had Gore had his way, with the recounts only occuring in heavily democratic and democratically controlled elections boards, I often figure they would have figured out a way to steal that one too.

    As I recall, if he had asked for a recount of the whole state, he would have won (the election as well as the court case). The reason he lost the court case is because he asked for recounts in only those heavily Democratic areas.

    If somebody wants to correct me on these points feel free to do so… but I am certain that if a full recount had been done in Florida, Gore would have won in 2000. (as per NYT counts of actual votes after it was all over)