ANCHORAGE - Elections Division director Laura Glaiser won't predict how many voters will show up for the primary election today, but if absentee ballot requests are any indication, the turnout may increase.
The division sent out 13,057 absentee ballots requested by mail. That's nearly 4,000 more than the 9,093 requested by mail in the 2002 primary and more than 6,200 more than requested in the last primary with a presidential election year, 6,777 in 2000.
Turnout for primaries is always smaller than the general election, Glaiser said. Two years ago, a gubernatorial election year, 25.3 percent of eligible Alaskans voted in the primary. In 2000, a presidential election year, the primary turnout was 17.2 percent.
The numbers understate true turnout, Glaiser said. Federal law does not allow Alaska voter rolls to be purged as quickly as in the past, Glaiser said, and the number of registered voters is high.
There are names on the rolls of people who have not voted for eight years. The division is required to send voters notices and not purge them unless it does not get a response.
"It's a very detailed process and it was mandated by the National Voter Registration Act," Glaiser said.
The race generating the most interest is the U.S. Senate, where incumbent Lisa Murkowski faces voters statewide for the first time.
Appointed in 2002 by her father, Gov. Frank Murkowski, to fill out the term he vacated to run for governor, Lisa Murkowski faces challenges from fellow Republicans Mike Miller, 53, a gift-shop owner from North Pole, Wev Shea of Anchorage, 60, the former U.S attorney for Alaska, and perennial candidate Jim Dore, an Anchorage house framer.
The winner is expected to face Democrat Tony Knowles, 61, a former mayor of Anchorage and two-term governor from 1995 to 2002. Knowles faces Don Wright of Fairbanks and Theresa Nangle Obermeyer of Anchorage in the primary.
Jim Sykes of Palmer is running as a Green Party candidate. Scott Kohlhaas of Anchorage is running as a Libertarian and Jerry Sanders and Daniel DeNardo, both of Anchorage, as Alaskan Independents.
U.S. Rep. Don Young has no primary challengers.
Of the 11 state Senate races, just five are contested in the primary.
The priciest is in District Q, where state Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, faces a challenge from the man he defeated two years ago, former state Sen. Jerry Ward of Nikiski. Ward is spending $140,000 of his own money to win the seat.
Just 15 of the 40 House races are contested. Two incumbents appointed to their seats face stiff tests.
Rep. Nick Stepovich, R-Fairbanks, a restaurant owner, was appointed in December to fill a vacancy created when Rep. Jim Whitaker was elected mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. He faces business owner Jay Ramras.
Rep. Dan Ogg, R-Kodiak, filled out the term of former Rep. Gary Stevens, who had been appointed to a Senate seat. Ogg faces Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Gabrielle LeDoux and Lorne "Lonnie" White, a business owner and deputy harbormaster.
In Anchorage, one-term incumbent Republican Bob Lynn faces challengers Kirk Wickersham and Laddie Shaw.
In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla, faces Colleen Sullivan- Leonard and Rep. Bev Masek, R-Willow, faces Mark Neuman of Wasilla.
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