JUNEAU, Alaska — A recount is likely after the results of a northern Alaska legislative race showed incumbent Rep. Benjamin Nageak lost by only four votes.
The certified results released Tuesday show Dean Westlake won the House District 40 race with 819 votes, compared to Nageak’s 815. A previous unofficial count after the Aug. 16 primary had Westlake in the lead by 21 votes.
“I can safely say they will ask for a recount,” Maridon Boario, a staffer for Nageak, told the Juneau Empire.
Nageak, of Barrow, is a member of the Republican-led House majority. Westlake was backed by the Democratic party.
The race for the district has also been challenged by concerns over ballot issues. State elections officials said a poll worker mistakenly gave election-day voters both a Republican ballot and a ballot with the Democratic, Libertarian and Alaskan Independence Party candidates.
However, Alaska Democratic Party chairwoman Casey Steinau has said there’s no evidence to suggest that primary election-day problems affected the outcome of the race.
The four-vote margin is significant because five ballots from the district, which covers the North Slope, remain uncounted. The absentee ballots from the village of Ambler were received on time by local officials but had not arrived in Juneau to be counted by Tuesday.
Alaska statute says “A(n) (election) certificate not actually delivered to the director by the close of business on the 15th day after the election may not be counted at the state ballot counting review.” That would have made the deadline on Thursday.
But Alaska law also allows the director of elections to use their judgment in calling the race, and Josie Bahnke decided to wait until Tuesday as a precaution.
“We waited beyond the time we needed to, and I think due to the closeness of the primary, we had hoped to receive them today, but at some point, we had to draw the line,” said Bahnke, head of the Division of Elections.
In addition to the tardy Ambler ballots, the state still has not received absentee ballots from rural areas of the Kodiak archipelago, St. George Island, or Arctic Village.
Bahnke said the division is prepared to conduct a recount within a day if requested.