Alaska at the polls – The numbers don’t add up

It’s strange writing about the political scene in Alaska without the subject being about Sarah Palin.

At first I thought the foul smell coming from the 49th state was a rotting moose carcass shot from a helicopter or maybe the First Dude spent too much time in the tanning bed.

Alaskan politics and corruption are obviously synonymous. But something is seriously wrong with their election.

Incentive to Vote

Alaskan voters had more reason to vote in this election than in recent memory.

Republican Congressman Don Young recently celebrated 35 years in office. This election cycle was to be more difficult for Young as he is under federal investigation for corruption involving VECO Corporation. His challenger was former state House minority leader Ethan Berkowitz who led in every poll before Election Day.

Republican Senator Ted Stevens or should I say Convicted felon Ted Stevens also trailed in the polls to Democratic Mayor of Anchorage Mark Begich. Stevens has been in office 40 years. For those of you living under a slain caribou the last 10 days, Ted Stevens was convicted on all 7 felony charges of giving false statements regarding the investigation involving – you guessed it – VECO Corporation. {An aside: I am sure Stevens will be pardoned by Bush before he leaves office on January 20th.}

If that wasn’t enough to motivate you to vote, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was atop the ticket as the running mate for GOP Presidential candidate John McCain. Polling had McCain – Palin leading by a wide margin over Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

 

By the Numbers

Registration was up in Alaska as it was throughout the entire United States. There were 30 thousand new registered voters since 2006 with this number somewhat split between Republicans and Democrats. There are 50 thousand more registered Republicans than Democrats which would – with all things being normal – have meant a cakewalk for the Republicans at the voting booth.

Alaskans Registered by Party:

RECOGNIZED POLITICAL PARTIES


STATEWIDE
TOTALS

TOTAL

Alaskan

Independence

Party

Democratic

Party

Libertarian

Party

Republican

Party

Nov 4, 2008

496,828

13,828

77,036

6,926

127,446

Nov 6, 2006

466,887

13,412

66,636

8,787

115,397

Nov 5, 2004

473,927

15,581

71,506

7,258

118,008

 

POLITICAL GROUPS


STATEWIDE
TOTALS

TOTAL

No

Party

Affiliation

Undeclared

Green

Party

Republican

Moderate

Veterans

Party

Nov 4, 2008

496,828

77,582

185,320

2,926

3,842

1,922

Nov 6, 2006

466,887

73,081

177,686

3,620

4,752

2,026

Nov 5, 2004

473,927

70,615

179,374

4,470

4,459

But all things aren’t normal this year. All 3 statewide Republican candidates were mired in scandal (Palin is still linked to Troopergate) and the polls support the uphill battles faced by both Young and Stevens. You would figure that at least one of the 2 would have been defeated.

Based on the current results, 305,281 Alaskans voted (early voting, absentee ballots or on Election Day). This is over 8,000 lower than the number in 2004. Add to this, there are 23,000 additional registered voters.

McCain – Palin actually received about 50,000 FEWER votes than the 2004 Bush – Cheney ticket.

This is the second LOWEST turnout for a general election in Alaska behind the 1996 Bill Clinton / Bob Dole race. The other 49 states achieved higher turnouts. How is this possible?

So with 4,000 more early voters this year (a 30% increase) and longer lines at the polls on Election Day, one must wonder how turnout actually DROPPED.

What Could Have Happened?

Did some Democrats stay home on Election Day as the results started filing in hours before the polls closed in Alaska? Not likely since early voting was up this year. In fact, 30% higher than in 2004.

Could voters have decided that with the corruption hanging over their 3 main political figures it was better to stay home to demonstrate their outrage? Actually, apathy would keep the voters home. Anger drives them to the polls to vote for the opponent.

Could the Republican voters have actually remained in support of Stevens and Young and were angry at the witch hunt (Palin pun kind of intended) against the 2 long serving Congressmen?

“Given that interest in this election could not, under any circumstances, have ever been greater this year than it was in other years, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine that the number of votes cast would drop” from 2004.  “It smells to me like you had a really, really, really weird turnout where all the Palin mothers and all the Ted Stevens supporters came flooding en masse out of the woodwork to make a point, and the Dems somehow sat on their hands and enjoyed the presidential news as it filtered up from the Lower 48 through the day,” David Dittman, Alaska pollster said.

Dittman predicted as the polls closed that Begich would beat Stevens by 8 points while Berkowitz would beat Young by 7. Instead, both Begich and Berkowitz trail the incumbents nearly a week later. And Young’s lead over Berkowitz is quite large.

How could he have been so wrong? Dittman has been forecasting Alaskan elections for 38 years!

Afterward, you look at it and say, ‘Holy cow! How could I have seen this coming?” said Dittman.

“I thought it was a mistake on the screen. I was totally surprised. I thought the state had made a mistake and had the candidates reversed,” he said.

We’ve seen strange results in elections for a number of years starting with Florida in 2000. Saxby Chambliss beat incumbent Max Cleland 6 years ago with questionable results. And the John Kerry loss in 2004 is a strange one as well.

And if you weren’t totally convinced that something was afoul, Alaska ballots are counted by Diebold.

Palin has gone back to her governor’s office with whatever Neiman Marcus clothes she could hide – as long as it wasn’t the Michael Jackson Thriller jacket – but the nation will be watching what comes out of the Stevens and Young races.

For more information on the races in Alaska visit:

Shannyn Moore – an Alaskan blogger

Brad Friedman at BradBlog

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