August primary draws record low turnout

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Voter turnout in last month's primary election was just over 17 percent, the lowest since records have been kept, according to certified results released Tuesday by the Division of Elections.

With few high-profile races, the Aug. 22 primary apparently held little appeal for voters. Candidates for president did not appear on the ballot, and the terms of the governor and both of Alaska's U.S. senators are not up this year.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Don Young had no opponent in the Republican primary and only token challengers from other parties. Also, many races for the Legislature had no primary contest.

''We were hoping it would be 20 percent,'' said Virginia Breeze, a spokeswoman for the Division of Elections.

Breeze said last month's turnout was the lowest since 1976, when the state began keeping turnout statistics.

Voter turnout in primaries has declined rapidly since 1990, when 47 percent of registered voters casts ballots in a year when the race for governor was hotly contested.

Primary turnout slumped to 36 percent in 1994, 30 percent in 1996 and 25 percent in 1998.

However, the turnout figures in recent years are somewhat skewed by the 1993 ''motor-voter'' law that lets people who visit the Department of Motor Vehicles become registered voters simply by reading an oath and signing their names. That process tends to register people who don't vote.

In addition, a federal law passed in 1993 has made it more difficult for states to purge the names of voters who have moved away.

The number of registered voters in Alaska increased from 296,461 for the 1992 primary to 460,312 for last month's election.

''We know it's inflated,'' Breeze said.

However, the actual number of people voting in primary elections also declined from 124,026 in 1992 to 79,145 last month.

General election turnout has also declined, from 83 percent in 1992 to 50 percent in 1998.

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