Tails From Alaska’s Voter Turnout

There is still plenty of analysis to do on what happened in this election cycle, both in Alaska and nationwide. In fact, in Alaska, absentee by mail votes continue flowing into the Alaska Division of Elections (DOE) offices and DOE is still trying to figure out how many questioned ballots were even cast.

We called them today to ask and sadly they told us they don’t know.

So we are cautious about going too far in drawing any conclusions, but one thing we do know is that this was an exceptional year for voter turnout in Alaska. Sadly, that isn’t a good thing.

In the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections voter turnout in Alaska was 66%,  66%, and 60% respectively.  At this point, Alaska’s 2016 statewide presidential election voter turnout is 48.4%.

Now, as we stated above there still are questioned, absentee, and a few early votes to be counted. While DOE can’t say how many, our Democrat and Republican sources both agree that number is about 15,000 ballots. So when it’s all said and done this year’s turnout should settle in between 50-52%.

That is a remarkable number, literally. It merits further remarks.

A 51% turnout would represent a 20% drop from the average turnout of the last three Alaska presidential elections. It would even be lower than any non-presidential-year statewide election turnouts since 2006.

So who stayed home and why? That is difficult to say until all the numbers are in.

Right now it looks like turnout in Democrat districts, even where there was an active state house race, was the lower than the state average.

In the  four solidly Democrat rural districts covering the Southwest, Western, and Northernmost parts of Alaska voter turnout is currently averaging 40.9%. There is still one precinct to be counted there but that shouldn’t move those numbers much.

In Anchorage’s most left-leaning districts in Downtown, Mountain view, Airport Heights, Spenard, U-Med, and Boniface (House Districts 16-20) the turnout is currently  at 44.1%. That is despite active house races in District 16 (Rep. Ivy Spohnholz vs. Don Hadley) and District 18 (Rep. Harriet Drummond vs. Mike Gordon).

Republican areas, on the other hand, came in with slightly better numbers, even where there weren’t highly contested races. The non-military districts that make up the core areas of Mat-Su and Eagle River all came in with turnout over 50% turnout.

Then again, there are areas that buck these trends. The three districts on the Kenai Peninsula are considered conservative voter hotbeds, but none of them have as yet broken 47%. And then there is the Downtown Juneau district represented by Rep. Sam Kito. There was no house or senate race this year but the district still posted a 53% turnout.

One thing we can say is where there were active state senate races, voters responded.

In the Fairbanks race between Sen. John Coghill and Luke Hopkins turnout is currently at 54%. Interestingly the left-leaning half of that senate pairing, House District 4, turned out at a far higher 58.8% rate than did the super conservative enclave of North Pole in House District 3, which only saw a 49.4% turnout. Even with the liberal side turning out at a far higher rate, Coghill is still up 7 points. That doesn’t bode well for any future attempts to knock off Coghill.

The one truly good, or by historical standards normal, area of voting came from the senate race between Sen. Cathy Giessel and Independent Vince Beltrami. Their turnout is currently at 59.6%. That means it will almost certainly break 60% when all the ballots are counted.

What does all that mean?

We’ve been asking political insiders all day and getting the same response “We don’t know yet.” We can tell lots of people chose not to vote, but who are those people, which candidates did that lack of enthusiasm help or hurt, and what mandate does that give those elected?  We’ll all have to wait a little while longer for a good, or at least intelligently thought through, answer to that.

About the Author

Casey Reynolds
Reynolds served as communications director for the Alaska Republican Party from 2008-2011. He left the Party in 2011 to host his own popular morning radio political talk show on AM750 / FM103.7 KFQD. Reynolds now runs The Midnight Sun (midnightsunak.com), crowned by the Anchorage Press as “Alaska’s best political blog.”