Most voters choose Republican ballot in hotly contested races

Posted: Thursday, August 26, 2004

Roughly one in every four registered voters across the state turned out to cast ballots in Tuesday's primary election, according to the Alaska Division of Elections.

Turnout within individual districts and precincts in areas covering parts of the Kenai Peninsula hinged on whether party contests represented real races, or mere formalities of selecting from among unchallenged candidates.

Better than 14.6 percent of voters chose the Republican Party ballot statewide, on which only Republicans appeared. Some 8.8 percent selected the Democratic-Combined ballot that included Democrats and candidates of other parties. Less than half a percent chose the Combined ballot, on which neither of the major parties appeared.

In the hotly contested Senate District Q race, in which incumbent Sen. Tom Wagoner defeated challengers Jerry Ward and Scott Hamann, turnout essentially matched the statewide total. Some 23.5 percent of District Q voters cast ballots, and like their counterparts around the state, most selected the Republican ballot.

Likewise, in the race in Senate District R, covering the lower Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak, 24.2 percent cast ballots with more choosing the Republican ballot. Incumbent Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, will face Democratic Party winner Michael Yourkowski of Homer in November.

In House District 33, which featured four Republicans and one Democrat, turnout topped statewide numbers. Some 28.7 percent of voters went to the polls, picking up the Republican ballot, where a real contest existed, by nearly a four to one margin. Kurt Olson won the Republican primary and will face Democrat Hal Smalley in November.

House District 34, where no one challenged incumbent Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, saw a 24.6-percent turnout. Chenault will meet Independent candidate Glen F. Martin in November.

On the lower peninsula in House District 35, three candidates from three different parties were on the ballot. The nonrace sent all three incumbent Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, Demo-crat Deb Germano, and Alaska Independence Party candidate Ed Martin Jr. to the November ballot, where they will all face Independent Mike Heimbuch of Homer. The turnout was small, only 10.8 percent, likely because the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The November election may result in far more ballots being cast.

The large number picking up the Republican ballots even in districts where there was little doubt about who the party winner would be, was likely influenced by the Lisa Murkowski-Mike Miller race for the U.S. Senate.

Pam Crowe, election supervisor for Region 1, which includes the peninsula, said it appeared that undeclared and nonpartisan voters showed a higher degree of interest in the Republican ballot. But how much should be read into that is debatable.

"If I had a crystal ball, I would be able to say what would motivate voters. It's hard for me to predict how voters will vote, because it is something so individual," she said.

Division analysts have not had time yet to compare this primary's turnout with those of the past, but Crowe did say requests for absentee ballots had been higher than ever before. She credited campaign mailings that may have sparked interest in voting by absentee ballot.

The division has 15 days to count absentee ballots, but Crowe said the target is Sept. 3. The division also has 15 days in which to count the new advanced overseas ballots. The State Review Board will count those and add them during its review of the election.

The target date for certifying the election is Sept. 15, Crowe said.

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