Ahead of Fairbanks recount in tied race, parties muster for legal battles to come

JUNEAU — Bart LeBon would rather that his tied statehouse race be decided in the courtroom.

“I don’t want to settle it with a coin toss,” the Republican candidate for House District 1 said by phone Wednesday.

The day before a recount that may decide control of House District 1, and with it control of the Alaska House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats appear to be mustering for a legal battle that appears inevitable regardless of who wins Friday.

On Monday, the Alaska Division of Elections in House District 1: 2,661 votes for LeBon, the Republican, and 2,661 votes for Democratic candidate Kathryn Dodge. One vote remains uncounted, pending a legal analysis before Friday’s recount.

Bart LeBon, Republican, and Kathryn Dodge, Democrat, are candidates for the Alaska House District 1 seat in Fairbanks. (FILE / AP)

If LeBon wins, Republican-aligned legislators would control 21 seats in the House, enough to form a majority caucus. If Dodge wins, the House would be split 20-20 between the Republican-aligned caucus and members who support the former coalition House majority. Further negotiations would be needed to establish a majority.

LeBon and Dodge have each hired attorneys, but Dodge has been less open about sharing details.

“Right now, we are looking forward to the recount on Friday and making sure that every legal vote is counted. And we think if that happens we’ll come out on top,” she wrote in a text-message response to a call from ADN.

When asked whether she would also seek to settle the election in court, rather than with a coin flip, she responded: “We’re not looking past Friday right now.”

Asked about his party’s legal preparations, Alaska Democratic Party executive director Jay Parmley wrote by email in a prepared statement, “There may be challenges. There are a variety of reasons we could do that, and of course we reserve the right to make a legal case if and when it’s appropriate. That said, we do have a legal team on board working with volunteers, and our primary objective is to make certain that every legal ballot counts. We take that very seriously, as should every Alaskan regardless of their political affiliation.”

Republicans have been more public about their preparedness efforts, going so far as to solicit donations on social media and by email.

One fundraising message, sent on behalf of new Alaska Republican Party chairman Glenn Clary, : “We could end up in a 20/20 split in House seats and the Republican-led caucus crumbling. A Democrat-led caucus would hamper our new governor’s ‘Alaska is Open for Business’ agenda. We’re mounting a defense fund now to guard the integrity of the election.”

By phone, Clary said the email is about preparedness, not necessarily a sign of things to come.

“We want to be ready. We don’t want to wait until the 12th hour and start our readiness plan,” he said.

Other Republicans are more certain.

“It is now evident that this will become a legal battle,” , chair of Republican District 9.

LeBon, who intends to watch the recount in person, said he wouldn’t be the one filing a court challenge if he wins outright on Friday. That challenge would likely come from the Democratic side.

If Dodge wins in the recount, Republican challenges are likely to focus on seven ballots counted during a by-hand audit of the results.

Up until the week of Thanksgiving, . Instead, the hand count revealed six previously uncounted votes for Dodge and one uncounted vote for LeBon.

LeBon hadn’t known about the hand count, he said, so he didn’t have observers present. In a race that ended up tied, why did those seven ballots break for his opponent?

“That gives me pause as to how I got from here to there, and of course if the roles were reversed, I think Kathryn would have the same concerns,” he said. “Maybe that needs to be hashed out before a judge or jury.”

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