August 27: Anchorage Daily News on voter turnout:

Posted: Monday, August 28, 2000

Turnout in Tuesday's primary election was in the neighborhood of 18 percent. That's the poorest primary turnout in memory.

What happened? Why the lack of interest?

For starters, many races were noncompetitive. Many candidates did not have primary opponents. A few will not have opponents in the November general election.

Without a gubernatorial election or a race for the U.S. Senate, Alaska's lone congressional seat was at the top of the ballot. Rep. Don Young has held this seat for almost two decades, and in this primary, his challengers were invisible.

There were no ballot propositions before the voters. Typically, ballot propositions draw not only the most regular voters but thousands of those who rarely turn out. You can bet that the November election ballot, studded with the tax-cap proposal, the wolf initiative and the hemp initiative among others, will produce long lines of voters.

Some precincts had turnouts so low that the election workers must have cheered whenever a voter deigned to walk through the door -- for example, precinct number 297 in Anchorage's House District 14 (Rep. Lisa Murkowski's district).

Of 6,751 voters, less than 1 percent turned out, although the Division of Elections conceded that absentee and questioned ballots could push the turnout slightly higher in this mostly Elmendorf area.

For the district as a whole, turnout was 7 percent or so -- less than one in 12 registered voters and less than half the statewide average.

''Yes, this is a poor turnout,'' said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato when the results were described to him, ''but in Virginia we have precincts with no turnout.''

How could this be possible?

''Because people register in these places, for whatever reason, but all their attachments are someplace else. These precincts have a ghost population. The Second Congressional District in Virginia, for example -- Norfolk and the Navy bases -- has the lowest turnout for any Congressional district because of the transience of the people.''

Folks are counted by the census, they register to vote -- and move on.

This Elmendorf precinct may be similar, suggests professor Sabato. After all, he said, there are only two explanations for such poor turnout.

Either something is structurally wrong with the makeup of the precinct that distorts participation levels -- people registered there actually are somewhere else, for instance -- or the people who live in the precinct have an exceptional lack of interest in community affairs, including voting.

The turnout Tuesday was low, no question about it. But the turnout figure also probably was deflated by ghost voters long departed.



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