Independent Rep. Dan Ortiz defeated Republican Leslie Becker on Friday after state election officials counted more than 98% of absentee ballots for House District 36, which includes Ketchikan, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Hydaburg and Hyder.
Ortiz tallied about 5,409 votes to 3,514 for Becker, with 71 uncounted ballots in the district, according to results released by the Alaska Division of Elections early Friday evening.
The victory secured another two-year term in the Legislature for Ortiz on the eve of a legislative session sure to be replete with challenging budget discussions.
“I would just like to thank all the voters, whether they voted for me or not, in District 36 for the great turnout,” Ortiz said in a Friday evening phone interview with the Daily News. “It was a testament to our democratic republic system and it showed that people … got out and let their voices be heard and that’s a great thing. So yeah, I’m just excited and honored to be able to continue as District 36 state representative.”
Becker also spoke briefly with the Daily News by phone on Friday evening.
“The people of District 36 have chosen,” Becker said. “Congratulations to Dan Ortiz for his re-election.”
Ortiz’s victory has all but guaranteed that House Republicans will not expand their numbers in the next Legislative session. Of the remaining seven undecided races for House seats, only one has a Republican candidate challenging a non-Republican incumbent. That race — in which Anchorage Democrat Chris Tuck is looking to fend off Republican challenger Kathy Henslee — is unlikely to flip: Tuck needs to win less than 31% of the remaining absentee ballots to maintain his seat, and absentee, early and questioned ballots counted this week have skewed in favor of non-Republican candidates compared to Election Day votes. And incumbent Republican Rep. Mel Gillis of Anchorage is almost sure to lose his seat to independent candidate Calvin Schrage, as Schrage held a 4,342–3,973 lead on Friday with 620 ballots yet to be counted.
Most of the remaining undecided races have incumbent Republicans hoping to avoid losing their seats to Democrats or independent candidates, including Anchorage Republican and House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, who holds a slim 58-vote lead over Democrat Liz Snyder to represent House District 23. Democratic or independent victories in those seats would diminish the chances that Republicans form a House coalition for the upcoming session.
Friday’s election results tipped one race for Republicans, though. Incumbent Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, won reelection in her House District 31 race.
With 22,635 absentee, early and questioned ballots yet to be counted statewide, several issues and races are beyond the margin of remaining votes to be reversed. Incumbent Republicans Rep. Don Young and Sen. Dan Sullivan each definitively won their reelection campaigns in Alaska: Sullivan has a lead of more than 44,000 votes, over independent Al Gross, while Young led independent Alyse Galvin by 32,000 votes.
Both Gross and Galvin conceded the races on Friday.
Galvin, an education advocate who was the Democratic nominee, in a statement said she called to congratulate Young and left him a voicemail.
"I hope he gets well soon," she said.
Young, 87, announced Thursday he had tested positive for COVID-19. Young, who has served in the House since 1973, in a tweet said he was feeling strong, "following proper protocols" and working from home in Alaska.
Galvin, who also lost to Young in 2018, said she was proud of the race she ran.
"It is now time for all of us to come together to address the huge issues we face today starting with coronavirus," she said.
Gross, in a statement, said his campaign raised "important issues that deserved to be heard."
He congratulated Sullivan on his win.
"Even though we have passionate policy disagreements on what is best for Alaska, what is important now is that all Alaskans come together after a free and fair election," Gross said. "I will continue to work in any way I can to serve this state that I love so dearly."
Gross, an orthopedic surgeon, ran as the Democratic nominee and disclosures through mid-October showed him with a significant fundraising advantage. Sullivan, however, predicted he would win reelection.
Sullivan told reporters Friday he was honored by the win.
Ballot Measure 1 has failed. Opposition to the proposed oil tax revenue measure outpaced support for it by more than 51,000 votes. Supporters of the measure, including Ortiz, said it would generate additional revenue for the state and might help avoid other forms of revenue generation for the state such as an income tax as the Legislature faces a daunting budget challenge in January.
Support for Ballot Measure 2 grew by 644 votes with Friday’s batch of ballots counted, leaving support for the measure with a still-slim lead of about 50.2% for versus 49.8% against. About 59% of absentee ballots counted so far in the election have supported the ranked-choice voting initiative, with the remaining 41% of ballots opposing the measure. In order to prevent the ballot measure from becoming law, more than 52% of the remaining uncounted ballots would need to oppose the ballot measure.
Election officials will continue to count the outstanding 22,635 ballots on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.