With Alaska Senate race unsettled, candidates seek cash

ANCHORAGE - Both candidates in the U.S. Senate race are going back to their supporters seeking new donations as their contest goes to post-election overtime and the possibility looms that it will be decided by contested ballots.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens led Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, the Democrat, by 3,257 votes after the last of the election day ballots were tallied Wednesday afternoon.

But election officials reported that as of Friday, they had 81,224 uncounted ballots on hand — about a third more than those counted so far. Absentee ballots mailed from U.S. locations with an election day postmark can continue to arrive until next Friday to be counted, and from overseas and military bases until Nov. 19.

Citing earlier trends and voter registration records, each side says it can win with those ballots. Director Gail Fenumiai of the Alaska Division of Elections said she expects to tally a majority of the uncounted votes on Wednesday, with another possible count on Friday.

The final count of absentee and questioned ballots is scheduled for Nov. 19, with certification of the election on Nov. 25.

With 18,271 questioned ballots so far, the campaigns for Stevens and Begich are asking their supporters for help with the additional expense of lawyers and observers during the canvassing. Each ballot is reviewed by a two-member board composed of a Democrat and Republican, and each side is entitled to an observer who can challenge a ruling. Unresolved issues can be brought to court.

In an e-mail to supporters Thursday, Begich campaign manager Heather Rauch said the campaign needs to raise another $50,000 “so we can keep the campaign going until the final votes are counted.”

Also on Thursday, Stevens campaign manager Mike Tibbles e-mailed supporters seeking a total of $75,000 “to cover the costs associated with the final vote counting and review of questioned ballots.”

Democrat Ethan Berkowitz, running against Republican Rep. Don Young, says his election is also still in play, though he’s much further behind than Begich. In the Wednesday tally, Young led 114,043 to 97,104, a spread of nearly 8 percentage points.