A man in a plaid shirt, playing with his children
Denny Wells, the Democratic candidate for House District 15, spends time with his children Monday night as he awaits the election results. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Ranked-choice voting has changed the way candidates campaign and the way Alaskans vote. It has also changed the pace of the election cycle. Previously, on or shortly after election night, many candidates had a pretty good idea of ​​where they stood.

This year, when so much depends on how voters ranked their second or third pick, it’s much more unclear how the close races will play out.

So, those would-be lawmakers just had to wait.

“I have no forecast,” Republican Cathy Giessel said. She is running in a three-way race for a South Anchorage state senate seat after a two-year hiatus from the state legislature. She and her opponents, incumbent Republican Roger Holland and Democrat Roselynn Cacy, each have about a third of the vote.

Giessel is slightly ahead, but his path to victory depends on how many voters finished in second place on their ballots.

Alaskans are used to waiting a while for election results because the deadline to receive ballots is approximately two weeks after Election Day. Now, it’s also the day that the tabulation of ranked picks in races where no candidate has more than 50% of the vote comes into play.

Giessel said that while he thinks 15 days might be a bit much, he’s happy to wait to find out.

“I was prepared from the start that it would take some time,” she said.

Meanwhile, Giessel said she attended conferences on resource development, sent out her newsletter and caught up on less political activities.

“I’m also doing some quilting, which I haven’t been able to do for a while, and painting a few rooms in my house. And I just finished refinishing some furniture,” she said. “So yeah, doing a lot of fun stuff too.”

It’s a similar situation for Maxine Dibert, a Democrat first-time candidate for the State House in Fairbanks. She has just under 50 percent of the first-choice vote, with the rest split between her Republican opponents, incumbent Bart LeBon and Kelly Nash.

“I’m kind of on pins and needles, just waiting,” she said.

Dibert said he knew it would be close. In 2018, LeBon won his race by a single vote against his Democratic opponent.

For LeBon to win again, he would need a significant amount of second-round votes from Nash. But Nash has campaigned encouraging his constituents not to rate LeBon at all.

Dibert, who taught third grade full-time throughout his campaign, said the lack of unity among his Republican opponents is a push.

“I feel…pretty good. I’m able to sleep at night and still focus on the class,” she said.

Still in the midst of a statehouse race in Anchorage, Democrat Denny Wells also has nearly half the vote and two Republican opponents behind him. He said he went into election night knowing he probably wouldn’t have a definitive answer.

“I’m in the same boat that I entered that appointment with, meaning it will be close and we’ll know on the 23rd. And we’re still there,” he said.

Since then, Wells has tracked each incremental card count update in a spreadsheet, to try to uncover his chances.

And he said he was optimistic. He’s had some time to breathe and spend time with his family following the intensity of his first ever campaign, and now he’s thinking about what comes next.

“What is the literal next step I need to take to work out the logistics of going to Juneau?” he said. “Because never have, it’s going to be a whole new learning curve”

The Elections Division will carry out a final count of overseas absentee ballots today. If no candidate in a given race achieves more than 50% of the vote, the Division will tabulate the votes of the second, third, and potentially in some cases fourth picks to determine a winner.

Tabulation is scheduled to start at 4pm Here’s how to watch.

RELATED: Here’s what to expect during Alaska’s ranked picks tabulation this afternoon

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