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Voters scarce at polls

Turnout starts slow in today's primary

Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Election officials at three voting locations around Juneau say voter turnout was unusually low this morning.

"This is probably the lowest we've ever seen," said Stuart Sliter, Douglas precinct chairman.

Sliter, who has worked as an elections official for more than a decade, said the precinct representing Douglas historically has had one of the highest turnouts in the Juneau area.

Of the 1,673 registered voters in the Douglas precinct, Sliter said only 58 had made it to the polls at Douglas Library by 9 a.m. At that time of the morning, Sliter said, that number normally would be between 120 and 130.

At the polling location at the Nugget Mall, precinct chairman Tom Perkins said 54 people had voted by about 9:30 a.m. That precinct has 1,259 registered voters.

"Normally for elections we'd have over 100 people at this time of the day," Perkins said.

By about 8:30 a.m. about 20 people had showed up to vote at the Juneau Assembly Chambers.

"Usually we get more than that before 8 a.m.," said Janet League, precinct chairman. "But it's still been pretty smooth and people have been very cool with the changes."

Those changes entail a six-ballot primary in which voters must choose candidates within their party only. Those voters registered as nonpartisan, undeclared or other must choose among the six state parties: Republican, Democrat, Green, Alaskan Independence, Libertarian, and Republican Moderate.

League said none of the voters has been surprised by the new primary system, but he added that many had expressed dissatisfaction with the new process.

There was mixed reaction about the closed primary among voters exiting the polling locations.

"I think it's nonsense," said Douglas resident Hans Peterson, 85, adding he was content with the open primary system that allowed voters to choose candidates across party lines.

Lou Ann Gagne, 47, of Douglas said she did not have a strong opinion in favor of or against the new primary. But she said that for a voter registered as nonpartisan such as herself, there is not enough confidentiality in picking one of the other party's ballots.

Alan Martin, 19, who lives in the Mendenhall Valley, said the six-ballot primary forces independents to vote in a partisan fashion but added that the new system also prevents voters from other parties from casting a vote for a weak candidate in another party.

"I think it gives parties a fairer chance in choosing their own candidate, and you can't rig another party's election," he said.

The primary ballot includes candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, the governor and lieutenant governor, and the state Senate and House.

All of the candidates for a legislative seat in the Juneau delegation are running unopposed in the primary.

Voters also will decide on a ballot initiative that would restructure Alaska's voting system. The method known as "preferential voting," or "instant runoff voting," would allow voters to pick among the candidates by means of preference. Voters could choose candidates from most favored to least favored in each statewide election except the race for governor and lieutenant governor.

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at timothyi@juneauempire.com.



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