Obsess With Us On Way-Too-Early Absentee Return Numbers In Alaska

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A fair warning, we are about to examine some really, really early absentee ballot return numbers in Alaska. Political analysts on both sides of the aisle have warned us about taking too much from them and so we pass that caution on to you. However, if you are like us, you just need to know what those numbers say anyway, right?

According to data from the Division of Elections (DOE), absentee ballot numbers on October 20th showed a grand total of 29,397 absentee ballots issued statewide so far. Of those ballots, 14,310 went to Republicans, 4903 to Democrats, and 9,887 went to undeclared or non-partisan voters. Only 4,733 of them have been returned. That is a 16.1% return rate.

In addition to the “don’t take too much from this” warning, let’s add some context. These are only mail and online delivery numbers. Early voting, that is people going to voting places in person before election day, doesn’t start until tomorrow. Voters can also still request absentee ballots until Saturday, October 29th, so there is a little more than a week’s worth of applications that could still come in.

With that said, the 29,397 number appears to put this year’s absentee numbers on track to outpace the last presidential election in 2012, when 42,079 absentee ballots were issued, but not 2008, when 47,868 absentee ballots were issued. So, by these way-too-early numbers, this election is on track to meet the average presidential election turnout in Alaska.

The disparity between Democratic and Republican absentee numbers is what we expected to see based on past elections. Republicans roughly outnumber Democrats in Alaska 2-1 and, like many states, Republicans in Alaska place much more emphasis and get far better results from absentee voting. Democrats, even in Alaska, tend to outperform Republicans the in-person early voting numbers. So the real telling analysis will come when we have some early voting numbers to compare to absentees and see which party is doing better in their respective turnout specialties.

Although, generally speaking, early and absentee voting rates have been on the rise both in Alaska and nationwide in recent elections. One could make the argument that Alaska’s numbers not outpacing 2008 and 2012 actually shows a lack of voter enthusiasm at this point… Then again, you could throw that idea out as pure speculation. :)

Want to get into the weeds? Ok, Here we go.

The Fairbanks area State Senate race between Sen. John Coghill vs. Luke Hopkins is seen as a hotly contested race (though most see it as Coghill’s race to lose). In that race, Republicans have requested 709 absentee ballots and already returned 105 of them for a 15% return rate. That is pretty good, but below the statewide return average of 16.1%. The Democrats in that district are doing a little bit better by returning 33 of their 186 ballots so far. That is an 18% return rate.  

Then again, if you are a Republican looking for a reason to be happy with these numbers you don’t have to look too far. Even though the Democrat return rate is better, and that COULD mean Dems are more enthusiastic voters, the raw vote numbers are still 33 Dem votes to 105 GOP votes. Republicans then still enjoy a better than 3-1 advantage in real numbers. That is pretty good.

Here is a head scratcher. The Anchorage area (Hillside/East Anchorage) Senate race between Sen. Cathy Giessel and AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami is supposed to be the hot race this year. Not according to way-too-early absentee numbers. Republicans have been issued 1044 ballots and Dems 327, but few of them have been returned at this point. Only 70 Republican ballots and 26 Dem have been have come back to this point. That is a 7% and 8% return rate respectively or half the statewide average.

How do we explain that? We don’t. We can’t. We don’t feel bad about it, though, and neither can anyone else.

There, like us, you now have some way-too-early numbers on which to overly obsess.