Three days after conceding the loss of his U.S. Senate seat, Alaska Democrat Mark Begich may have hit on just the trick to make him the most popular lame duck ever. On Nov. 20, the soon-to-be ex-senator introduced a bill that would allow voters to block robocalls from certain political organizations by adding super PACs and dark money groups (politically active non-profits that do not disclose donors) to the “Do Not Call Registry” maintained by theFederal Trade Commission. The “Do Not Disturb Act of 2014” comes a little late for this year’s voters, including many in Begich’s state. But an analysis of data — including filings due at the Federal Elections Commission at midnight — using Sunlight’s Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance tracker suggests that such a measure could put a serious crimp in the nation’s gross political product. Outside expenditure filings show that outside groups spent nearly $8 million dialing voters across the nation last year. Because of vagaries in how these calls are described in filings to the FEC, it’s hard to say exactly how many of them were the types Begich would ban: automated “robocalls” or the “push-polls” (faux surveys that attempt to create favorable or — more typically — unfavorable impressions of candidates by the way questions are phrased). Still, we found more than $1 million worth of calls that were explicitly identified as “automated” or “robocalls.”
Election watchdog groups are worried about the role electronically submitted ballots in Alaska might play in the state’s two tight federal elections. Ballots returned online are vulnerable to cyberattacks and lack a proper paper trail, said government accountability advocate Common Cause and election oversight group Verified Voting. Alaska’s gubernatorial and Senate races have both dragged on long after Election Day, with opponents split by narrow margins. Early Wednesday, The Associated Press declared former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan (R) the winner over incumbent Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), even though 30,000 ballots remain uncounted. Begich has yet to concede. Former Valdez, Alaska, Mayor Bill Walker (I) maintains a thin lead over incumbent Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R), although the race remains too close to call. If either race “is to be determined by ballots sent over the Internet, its legitimacy is in doubt,” said Verified Voting President Pamela Smith.
Alaska will begin counting more than 53,000 absentee and questioned ballots on Tuesday in an effort to resolve the state’s unsettled contests for the Senate and for governor. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich trailed Republican challenger Dan Sullivan by about 8,100 votes after Election Night. Begich is banking on the uncounted votes after waging an aggressive ground game in rural Alaska. The outcome of the new round of vote-counting won’t change the balance of the Senate. Republicans gained seven seats in last week’s election, more than enough to grab the Senate majority for the remainder of President Barack Obama’s presidency. The limbo between Election Night and the outcome of the new count created a vacuum the candidates’ spokesmen sought to fill. “Every Alaskan deserves to have their vote counted, and past experience indicates that counting these votes will favor Begich and draw this race closer,” Begich’s spokesman, Max Croes, said in an email Monday to The Associated Press. Begich has returned to Washington, D.C., for the lame duck session.
An Alaska Senate race has the potential to once again remain undecided well after the election, and this time the wait could keep control of the Senate up in the air until at least mid-November. December and January runoffs are possible in two other states with Senate races, so it could be even longer before either party can claim a majority of seats in the chamber in the next Congress. Senate Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take control. But the reason for the holdup in Alaska is, like the state itself, unique. In the Last Frontier State, the regular delay in races being called is largely a product of two confluent circumstances: close contests and an increased emphasis by campaigns on absentee voting, a get-out-the-vote method pushed to help compensate for the state’s travel and voting complications. The need to encourage absentees is a reality in one of the most topographically challenging states for campaigns in the country. Prop planes are often required for candidates to reach the state’s vast rural areas and even for timely travel between cities close in proximity but separated by mountains or water. And state officials running the election face similar logistical hurdles: All ballots are eventually transported by air to Juneau, a capital only accessible by boat or plane.
The plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two Alaska gubernatorial candidates will not appeal a judge’s ruling that an emergency order allowing the ticket was valid, he said Monday. Plaintiff Steve Strait said, however, that state lawmakers should enact a permanent regulation to address a legal “train wreck” — the label used by Superior Court Judge John Suddock in describing a gap in Alaska election statutes. Suddock sided with the state on Friday.
A judge on Friday sided with the state of Alaska and ruled against a lawsuit that challenged the merged campaigns of two candidates in the governor’s race. Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Suddock ruled that an emergency order issued by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell that allowed the merger was valid. The state argued that invalidating the order would leave the November election in shambles and disenfranchise voters, saying more than 2,400 overseas ballots have already been mailed out. “The people of the state of Alaska expect an election,” Suddock said after opposing sides had presented their oral arguments. “They expect to have a choice.” The lawsuit was filed last week by Steve Strait, an Alaska Republican Party district chair. Strait maintained Treadwell erred in his Sept. 2 order, which permitted candidates affected by the merger to officially withdraw from their respective races.
The Alaska gubernatorial election could be derailed and thousands of voters disenfranchised if a lawsuit challenging the merged campaigns of two candidates is successful, state lawyers argue in court documents ahead of oral arguments Friday. “This court should not lightly order a remedy that will interfere with an ongoing election and disenfranchise Alaska’s voters,” Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh, representing the defendants, wrote in documents filed in the lawsuit against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and elections director Gail Fenumiai. The filing says more than 2,400 overseas ballots have already been mailed out. The lawsuit filed last week by an Alaska Republican Party district chair, Steve Strait, challenges an emergency ruling that allowed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott to join his campaign with now-independent candidate Bill Walker and run as Walker’s lieutenant governor.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) would presumably like to run against Joe Miller (R) in the November election. Miller, the GOP’s surprising 2010 nominee who eventually lost to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) write-in bid, emerged from that campaign extremely unpopular and now fares worse than his primary opponents in general-election polling against Begich. At the very least, Begich’s supporters see former state attorney general Dan Sullivan as the biggest threat in Tuesday’s three-way Republican Senate primary in the state, judging by ads run by the group Put Alaska First are any indication. The pro-Begich PAC has been hammering Sullivan, in a move that some Republicans critique as undue “meddling” in their primary. A better descriptor than “meddling” might be: How politics works.
The Alaska Republican primary ballot next year will be a tale of two Dan Sullivans. Former state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, a first-time candidate, announced a challenge last month to Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, the better-known of the two, is running for lieutenant governor. The presence of more than one Dan Sullivan is causing some confusion in polling on the two races, but it may not necessarily have negative repercussions for either candidate in the Aug. 26 primaries. While there will undoubtedly be plenty of advertising in this inexpensive state over the next nine months, any lingering confusion could conceivably provide the Senate candidate a few extra points of support. “From a strategy point of view, I think it’s to both parties’ interests — because both parties benefit from the other party’s advertising — to not dispel it until the primary is over,” said Marc Hellenthal, a veteran Republican pollster in the state whose client is the Anchorage mayor.