Longtime lows at polls

Uncontested races drawing few voters

Posted: Tuesday, August 22, 2000

In Juneau, the lack of contested races in the primary election for the Legislature apparently has dampened turnout.

In one Mendenhall Valley precinct, it's been a quarter century since voter turnout got off to such a slow start, according to one account.

By 8:45 this morning, only 12 people had cast ballots at Glacier Valley Baptist Church, the polling place for the Upper Mendenhall No. 1 precinct.

Precinct chairwoman Carole Winton said that was clearly a record-low start.

"We would have had over 100 by now" in an average election, Winton said.

Two other precincts usually known for high turnout also didn't see many people during the morning rush hour, typically one of the peak voting periods of the day.

"It's been very, very slow," said Stuart Sliter, precinct chairman for Douglas. Eighteen ballots were cast during the first hour the Douglas Library polling place was open.

In last year's special election on using Alaska Permanent Fund revenue, "It was almost a voter every minute," she said.

"It's surprising the number of people who don't even know it's Election Day," said Mary Lou Meiners, precinct chairwoman for Juneau No. 2, which votes at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church downtown.

Recent statewide trends for turnout haven't been good.

In 1998, when there was a contested gubernatorial primary, only 24.6 percent of the state's registered voters went to the polls. That was the lowest percentage since state elections officials started keeping track in 1976.

In some legislative districts, there are contested races that have generated television advertisements and media coverage. For example, the Republican Senate primary between incumbent Robin Taylor of Wrangell and former Wrangell Mayor Bill Privett has been a high-profile affair. There also are five Democrats running for the Senate seat being vacated by Majority Leader Jerry Mackie, which includes Kodiak and numerous Southeast communities.

But in Juneau, nothing gets decided today.

Rep. Bill Hudson, a Republican who represents the valley and Auke Bay, faces no opposition on the primary ballot or on the Nov. 7 general election ballot. Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat who represents downtown, Douglas and Lemon Creek, is facing a challenge from Republican Mike Race, but neither have intraparty opponents, and no other parties have fielded candidates. Democratic Sen. Kim Elton is not up for re-election.

All 40 House seats and half of the 20 Senate seats are up for election this year, as is the state's sole congressional seat. U.S. Rep. Don Young, a 28-year Republican incumbent, has no primary opposition. Six candidates from other parties, including three Democrats, are running to replace him.

While voter turnout has been light, elections officials report little or no confusion with the two-ballot format being used by emergency order of Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

Prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, voters are being offered a ballot with Republican candidates and another ballot listing all other candidates.

Voters must choose between the ballots. Only registered Republicans and nonpartisan or undeclared voters can vote the Republican ballot. But party affiliation can be changed at the polls. Anyone can vote the open ballot.

"So far, people have come in and have known which ballot they wanted," said Odette Foster, an elections worker downtown.

"We haven't had anybody who didn't realize what was going on," said Sliter in Douglas.

Polling places in Juneau are the same as for the 1998 primary election and the 1999 special election, with one exception: The polling place for the Lemon Creek precinct is now Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., 5601 Tonsgard Court. It was formerly the Juneau Pioneers' Home.

Legislative districts and precincts are listed on voter ID cards. Voters who are unsure where to vote can call toll-free (888) 383-8683, to reach the state's automated polling place locator. Polls close at 8 tonight.

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