By Alex DeMarban

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan's lead over Democratic Sen. Mark Begich shrank slightly, and Gov. Sean Parnell fell a bit further behind challenger Bill Walker in his bid for a second full term, as Alaska election officials Tuesday continued counting votes in what promises to be a long process.

The effort -- held at five regional Division of Elections offices around the state -- was Round 2 of a process that began immediately after polls closed last Tuesday in the Nov. 4 general election. Last week, more than 220,000 votes were counted in those prominent statewide races.

On Tuesday, more than 17,000 additional votes were expected to be counted. But late Tuesday afternoon, after the Elections Division released a new update, the counting was not yet finished in Anchorage and Fairbanks. More than 15,000 additional votes had been counted by 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The update showed Dan Sullivan with 117,306 votes, and Begich with 109,235 votes, meaning Sullivan's lead shrank to 8,071 votes.

After election night, Sullivan led Begich by 8,149 votes. Begich is hoping for a come-from-behind victory similar to his cliffhanger win over Republican Ted Stevens in 2008, when Begich dug out of an initial 3,000-vote hole to ultimately win by 4,000 votes.

In the governor's race after Tuesday's update, Walker had 114,756 total votes to Parnell's 110,917, giving Walker a 3,839-vote or 1.6 percent edge.

That was slightly higher than the count on election night, when Walker had a 1.4 percent lead -- a difference of 3,165 votes -- over Parnell.

An additional 30,000-plus votes must be counted after the full counting is done Tuesday. Also, there is still time for other mailed ballots to arrive. Ballots postmarked in the U.S. have through Friday to arrive. Those postmarked outside the U.S. have until Nov. 19 to arrive.

The uncertainty in tight races could drag on for some time, but the division hopes to certify the election Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving.

(c)2014 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska)