Primary rules may influence election results

Some think closed Republican ballot may give Berkowitz a boost to Congress

Posted: Monday, August 18, 2008

Political parties structure their primary elections to get what they think is the best possible candidate, but the Republican Party's closed primary may wind up putting a crucial seat in the U.S. House of Representatives at risk.

Alaska's Republicans have a partially closed primary, while the Democrats are on the same ballot with two other parties, the Alaska Independence Party and the Libertarian parties.

Any voter may select the A-D-L ballot at the polls to vote Democratic, Libertarian or Alaskan Independence, while the Republican ballot may be selected only by Republicans, or those who list themselves as undeclared or nonpartisan.

That's likely to mean Republicans are likely to chose a Republican stalwart but not necessarily the best candidate for the general election, said Ivan Moore, an independent pollster working for several news media organizations this election.

Moore says Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, is leading Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell in the race to be the Republican candidate for U.S. Congress, which he attributes to the structure of the Republican Primary.

"That's what the closed Republican primary will do folks ... ensure your weaker candidate gets elected," said Moore, writing in the Anchorage Press.

That's important, because while Moore's polling shows likely Democratic nominee Ethan Berkowitz beating Young by 10 points in the fall general, it shows Parnell ahead of Berkowitz in the same race by four points.

Republican Party spokesman McHugh Pierre said the party is committed to its primary system, however.

"The goal for the party is that we have Republicans selecting the candidate who will be representing the party in the general election," he said.

"We really believe that having a closed primary provides true representation," Pierre said.

Tuesday, Parnell issued a statement highlighting the recent polling numbers.

"A victory for Parnell for Congress in the primary is the only way to prevent a Democratic Party victory in November," he said.

Only a Parnell victory in the primary could keep the Alaska seat in Republican hands, Parnell said.

"A vote for Young is a vote for Berkowitz," he said.

Young's campaign disputed that.

"That's an interesting contention," said Mike Anderson, spokesman for Young.

"I think it would be presumptuous in any case to think one person is going to beat the other based on pre-primary polls," he said.

Young is confident he will win both the primary and the general election, Anderson said, and quoted the congressman's regular refrain, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

Democrats have their own complaints with the Alaska ballot process, however.

State Democratic Party chairwoman Patti Higgins said the elections division was mis-naming the non-Republican ballot by confusingly calling it the "Official A-D-L Party Ballot."

At the polls voters will be offered that ballot, the Republican ballot, or a nonparty ballot with ballot measures only.

"There is no such thing as the A-D-L Party, and no one has ever heard the A-D-L acronym," Higgins said.

The Democratic Party acknowledged that it may be too late to change the printed ballots, but said more could be done to advertise to the public which ballot to select and to train elections workers.

State elections director Gail Fenumiai said Alaska has been using the combination open and closed primary for some years and voters will be able to determine which party ballot to take at the polls.

"I think people are totally used to it now," she said. "I don't believe there is confusion at the polls."

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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