Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Alaska Turnout, Results Raise Questions


Alaska Turnout, Results Raise Questions
by Derek Kravitz
TAGS: Alaska, Sarah Palin, Ted Stevens, politics, voting

Alaskans are different. Very different.

Elections officials, party leaders and voters are wondering what happened this Tuesday in the Last Frontier, where turnout was surprisingly low and two lawmakers who have been the focus of FBI corruption investigations appear to have been reelected despite polling suggesting they would be ousted.

The final voter turnout numbers won't be available until absentee ballots are counted, which could take at least another week. But this year's total is not expected to eclipse Alaska's 66 percent turnout in 2004 or its 60 percent clip in 2000. (This is especially odd given that Alaska's Board of Elections saw a 12.4 percent hike in turnout for the August primaries, before Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was selected as the Republican Party's vice presidential nominee.)

Alaska returns (without the uncounted absentee and contested ballots) show the McCain-Palin ticket garnering 136,348 votes. In 2004, President Bush got 190,889 votes, a "significant disparity", the Anchorage Press reported. "These numbers only add to the oddity of this election in Alaska; in the run-up to Tuesday, Alaskan voters seemed energized to vote for a ticket with our governor on it, despite the barrage of criticism Palin faced."

Couple the dip in support for McCain-Palin with surprising victories for longtime Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was found guilty Oct. 27 on seven felony charges, and Rep. Don Young, who is under investigation by the FBI, and a lot of pollsters and voters were left stumped.

Pollster Del Ali of the Maryland firm Research 2000, which tracked the House and Senate races in Alaska, said he was "not happy" how the races -- and dead wrong polling numbers -- turned out. Research 2000 had reported in the days before the election that Democratic challenger Mark Begich, an Anchorage attorney, was leading the 84-year-old Stevens by 22 percentage points (Daily Kos apparently paid for the polls).

Other pollsters didn't fare much better. Anchorage pollster and Republican political consultant David Dittman, a Stevens supporter, predicted a "solid Begich win." The national polling firm, Rasmussen Reports, accurately predicted every Senate race in the country within the margin of error in their most recent polls -- except Alaska. Alaska pollsters Ivan Moore, Craciun Research Group and Hays Research Group all also had Stevens and Young trailing in the lead-up to the election.

Some observers pointed to Sen. John McCain's early concession speech as a possible reason for the low turnout -- McCain acknowledged Sen. Barack Obama's win at 7:15 p.m. Alaska time, well before polls closed in the state. An Alaska Republican Party leader told the Fairbanks News-Miner that some voters might have stayed home after hearing Obama had captured the presidency.

But other pundits and political science professors dismissed that theory, saying the high-profile races for Stevens's and Young's seats would not have dissuaded voters from showing up at the polls. Other pollsters thought Palin drew new Republican voters to the polls early on, and that voting largely subsided after Obama claimed victory.

As the head-scratching continues, we'll be watching to see how Stevens's fellow senators decide to deal with his felony conviction conundrum.

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