Left: Rep. Dan Ortiz speaks at the 2022 Ketchikan Fil-Am Festival in October. Right: Jeremy Bynum poses for a photo at the Blueberry Arts Festival in August. (Photos by Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz has expanded his lead over Republican challenger Jeremy Bynum in the race to represent much of the southern panhandle in the state House. Ortiz now leads by five points.

The Alaska Division of Elections released an update to its ongoing count of outstanding ballots Tuesday evening. 

The update includes more than 1,000 newly-counted absentee and questioned ballots in House District 1. About 60% of those went into Rep. Dan Ortiz’s column, giving him a 336-vote lead.

Ortiz says he’s glad to have the faith of voters in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Saxman, Coffman Cove, Hyder and Meyers Chuck. 

“I’m feeling pretty good about things. Happy to see that my lead grew to 336 votes. Excited about the potential of perhaps continuing as their state representative. … I feel like I’m in a pretty darn good position, not ready to declare victory yet, but in a pretty solid position,” he said.

If the results hold, Ortiz says he plans to continue to work on his top priority: a sustainable fiscal plan.

“Everybody can agree that we need a fiscal plan, but the particulars are what has caught, you know, the different groups up over these years,” he said. “But nevertheless, I’m committed to that — committed to taking the tough votes and to doing the things that are necessary to put this state on a sustainable fiscal path.”

Ortiz says he flew to Anchorage the day after Election Day for some early discussions  on how the House might organize, but as of Tuesday evening, whether another bipartisan coalition in the chamber might emerge was unclear. Ortiz says he’s hoping to return to the powerful House Finance Committee.

“All options are on the table, but, you know, my first priority would be to see if we could do a bipartisan caucus again,” Ortiz said. “And then as a part of that, hopefully, I could emerge as the co-chair of Finance within that organization.”

Ortiz congratulated Bynum on a well-run race.

“Hats off again to my opponent. He ran a great campaign — a particularly strong campaign, I think, for a first-time candidate,” he said.

 The count released Tuesday includes ballots received through Thursday, Nov. 10. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day but can arrive up to 10 days later in most cases. Another update is scheduled for Friday.

Bynum says he hasn’t conceded per se — he says he plans to wait until all ballots are counted. But Bynum says it’s tough to imagine a scenario in which he pulls ahead.

“I don’t foresee that there’s going to be a chance for that to happen,” he said. “We’re comfortable with what we see, and this is where it is.”

He thanked his supporters and his wife, Carolyn Henry. Bynum says he’s proud of his campaign’s efforts.

“Part of why we got into this, again, was to make sure that we could elevate the conversation, talking about the needs of District 1, and everybody put their best foot forward,” he said. “We all worked really hard, and I think we kept it clean, and that was really a fairly important part of this, too.”

Bynum says he plans to spend some time with his family and continue advocating for the community as a member of Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly.

The election update released Tuesday evening did not include updated tallies for House District 2, which includes much of Prince of Wales Island in addition to Petersburg, Sitka, Hoonah and Yakutat. Sitka independent Rebecca Himschoot has a 13-point lead over Hoonah Republican Kenny Karl Skaflestad in that race.

And in Senate District A, the results are largely unchanged. Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican, has a commanding 36-point lead over conservative Republican challenger Michael Sheldon of Petersburg.

The Division of Elections aims to certify the results Nov. 29.