ANCHORAGE -- Poor voter turnout and widespread complaints about the state's closed balloting system will likely provide the final punctuation to Tuesday's primary.
Voter turnout in the state's first closed primary in 35 years will be a near-record low as fewer than 25 percent of the state's registered voters cast a ballot, said Janet Kowalski, director of the state Division of Elections.
With 17 of the state's 446 precincts still to be counted, about 21 percent of the state's registered voters participated in Tuesday's primary. That is higher than the 2000 primary where voter turnout was a record low 17.2 percent but lower than the 1998 gubernatorial primary where 24.6 percent of voters cast a ballot.
''We're looking at barely scraping that 17 percent,'' Kowalski said.
The low turnout was attributed in part to the state's new closed primary and to a generally low number of primary races for many seats, Kowalski said.
Under the closed primary each of the state's six recognized political parties had its own ballot and voters were restricted to casting one party ballot. The GOP-controlled Legislature voted last year to replace its Blanket Primary after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Blanket Primary allowed Alaskans to cast ballots across party lines for various races.
State Democratic Party executive director Tammy Troyer said the new primary alienated voters.
Republicans had more than 20 contested races on the primary ballot and a statewide ballot initiative to institute instant runoff voting was also struck down by voters by a wide margin.
Republican voters picked U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski as their candidate for governor and also voted for the lieutenant governor candidate. State Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman is the presumed winner over Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin.
With 99 percent of the vote in, Leman led Palin 18,509 to 17,085 votes. Palin conceded the race Wednesday with remaining ballots to be counted.
Kowalski said the state's closed primary irked many voters and in at least one instance created tense moments for poll workers who notified Alaska State Troopers about an irate voter. Kowalski would not identify the polling place.
More than half of registered voters are nonpartisan or undeclared. When that's the case, candidates become more important to many voters than party affiliation, Kowalski said.
Attorney Sean Halloran received an injunction to allow him to vote on the ballot measure without selecting a party ballot, according to the Anchorage Daily News.
The Green Party and the Republican Moderate parties also planned to file a lawsuit Thursday challenging the closed primary, said Republican Moderate Party Chair Ray Metcalfe.
The Republican Moderate Party has about 2,896 registered voters in Alaska and is at risk of losing its status as a recognized political party. Metcalfe said the closed primary is an attack on his party since it would lure party members to the state's two major political parties.
The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the closed primary system written by the Legislature.
But Republicans who held a news conference Wednesday to laud the election which easily nominated Murkowski and settled eight legislative races, defended the new system.
''Alaskans who have voted in other states have found this to be a return to normalcy rather than something that is distressing,'' said Republican Party Chair Randy Ruedrich. ''If we had 40 people out of 450,000 (complaining) that is truly a very small squeak.''
Ruedrich said there's likely to be changes in the state's primary system to avoid having nonpartisan ballot measures on partisan ballots.
But otherwise, Ruedrich said the closed primary system worked well for his party's primary.
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