Kari Mohn explains the ballot to Nancy Montgomery before Montgomery and her husband Jim, not pictured, voted absentee ballots at the city of Kenai building Thursday afternoon. "I always vote this way because I'm usually going to work on election day," Jim Montgomery said. Mohn said voter turnout was expected to be high.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Alaska's general election is a week away and workers at the Division of Elections are gearing up for a large turnout after seeing interest in absentee voting skyrocket in recent weeks.
"It looks like we're probably going to double the number of absentee ballots that we had in 2000," elections division Director Laura Glaiser said.
Division employees have been working seven days a week, often as late as 10 p.m., to handle some 60,000 absentee ballot applications so far. On Oct. 18, for instance, the division received 7,000 applications for absentee ballots in just one day, Glaiser said.
"And that's not even all the mail we got," she said.
In addition, there is great interest in voting by fax, Glaiser said.
Whether turnout this year will beat numbers set during recent presidential-year elections remains to be seen, but indications are it could come close.
"Certainly the interest at that level (absentee and vote by fax) would translate into a large voter turnout," Glaiser said.
In 2000, the last presidential election year, there were 460,855 registered voters in the state. By Oct. 4 of this year, the number was 469,042.
Republicans are leading party-affiliated registrants with almost 117,500 to the Democrat's total of nearly 71,000. Alaskan Independence Party, Green Party of Alaska, the Libertarian Party, Moderate Republicans and those listed under "other" totaled roughly 34,500 more.
But indicative perhaps of Alaskans' independent natures, those numbers tend to pale compared to registrants signed up as of Oct. 4 as nonpartisan (69,505) or undeclared (176,663). The bulk of new registrants since Aug. 4 have been in those two categories.
Here on the Kenai Peninsula, the numbers tend to mirror the statewide figures, but vary a bit across the three House Districts 33, 34 and 35.
For instance, slightly more are registered to vote in District 35, which includes Homer and Seward, where some 13,000 are signed up, than in District 33 (Kenai and Soldotna) where 12,334 are registered. District 34, encompassing a large territory of unincorporated borough from Nikolaevsk to north of Nikiski, has some 12,439 registered voters.
In all three, Republicans outnumber those declared with other parties, but nonpartisans and undeclared voters dominate, with 6,558 in District 33, another 6,843 in District 34 and 7,499 in District 35. Again, the bulk of new voters registered since August is in the undeclared and nonpartisan categories.
Voter turnout has varied over the years.
The general elections of 1984 and 1988 produced nearly similar voter turnout percentages, 69.9 percent and 69.5 percent, respectively.
Alaska voters appeared to turn out en mass in 1992 when 82.9 percent of registered voters went to the polls. That was the year presidential candidate Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush.
Subsequent elections saw smaller percentages, but according to Glaiser, that had much to do with 1994 federal regulations effectively making the purging of voter rolls more complicated and lengthier. In 1996, for instance, turnout dropped to 59.1 percent.
In 2000, almost exactly half, or 50.5 percent, cast ballots.
The contentious race be-tween Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, appointed to her job by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, and her Democratic Party challenger, former Gov. Tony Knowles, is being watched nationally because on its results could hang control of the U.S. Senate.
That may be a factor in encouraging voters to go to the polls, though Glaiser said the division is not tracking statistics that would say one way or the other.
"I just don't know if that's the drive," she said. "Several issues are probably driving people to the polls. It's probably everything. We're just looking at the sheer numbers and trying to figure out how to serve everyone and get the message out. I think voters know it's (this election) important."
Republican Rep. Don Young is not expected to meet much of a challenge at the polls, and so in that respect might be less of a factor in terms of voter enthusiasm.
Four ballot measures, however, are expected to generate voter interest. One in particular bears directly on how Lisa Murkowski got her job.
Ballot Measure 4 would repeal state law allowing the governor to appoint a person to temporarily fill a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate until an election could be held. This initiative grew out of dissatisfaction with Frank Murkowski choosing his daughter to fill his vacated Senate seat when he became governor in 2002.
Ballot Measure 1 would amend the Alaska Constitution and change how signatures are gathered for initiative or referendum petitions.
Ballot Measure 2 would remove civil and criminal penalties under state law for growing, using, selling of giving away marijuana or hemp products. The change would apply only to people over age 21. It also would eliminate restrictions on prescription use of marijuana. It would allow local governments to regulate it like alcohol and tobacco.
Ballot Measure 3 would make it illegal for a person to bait or intentionally feed a bear in order to hunt, photograph or view it.
Today marks the last day applications for absentee by-mail ballots will be accepted, Glaiser said.
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