ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Waiting for election results well-past poll closing is nothing new for Alaska.
Because of the way the votes are counted in the state — officials begin counting absentee and questioned ballots a week after the election — the 2014 race between Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Dan Sullivan still has not been settled. It's the third Senate election in a row that's kept Alaskans waiting.
This time, the results matter most of all to Alaskans. Senate control already has been decided in the Republicans' favor. The GOP also has the House majority, limiting President Barack Obama's policymaking powers for the remainder of his presidency.
Begich trailed Republican Dan Sullivan by about 8,100 votes, with thousands of ballots still to be counted. The Libertarian, non-affiliated and write-in candidates combined earned nearly 14,000 votes, following precinct reports.
In 2008, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens led Democrat Mark Begich by about 3,000 votes after Election Day but before the absentees and questioned ballots were counted. Stevens, who had been found guilty by a jury in a federal corruption case days before the election, conceded about two weeks later. Begich wound up winning by less than 4,000 votes. A judge later threw out Stevens' conviction, and Republicans during this campaign painted Begich's win in that race as a fluke.
In 2010, the write-in category led on the election night, but Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who months earlier lost her primary to tea party favorite Joe Miller, wasn't the only name that could have been written in. That race, which included a hand-count of ballots watched intently by Miller supporters challenging misspellings in Murkowski's name, wasn't certified until Dec. 30 that year. Murkowski won re-election.
Begich issued a statement Thursday, thanking supporters and saying his campaign respects the division's procedures and timetable.
"The vote totals probably won't be known for a while," he said. "But we ran this campaign for all Alaskans, and we're going to make sure that all votes legally cast by Alaskans are counted."
Republicans, meanwhile, said Sullivan's lead is insurmountable. Sullivan's campaign sent out an email roundup of various news excerpts and quotes that read: "Begich is clinging to votes that don't exist."
A Sullivan spokesman said the Republican was leaving for Marine Corps reservist training on Thursday.
There were other prominent races on the ballot, including the still too-close-to-call governor's race and ballot measures to legalize recreational use of marijuana and raise the state's minimum wage, both of which passed.