Candidates: Meaning of primary results uncertain

New six-ballot primary may obscure results

Posted: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

The six candidates running for a seat in Juneau's legislative delegation - all of whom ran unopposed - are ready to kick their campaigns into high gear for the Nov. 5 general election.

Though primary elections in the past have given an idea of how candidates would do in the general election, many legislative hopefuls are saying the vote tallies this year may be obscured by the new six-ballot primary.

Under that primary system voters are allowed to vote only in their party's election. Undeclared, nonpartisan and voters registered as other have to pick from the six major party ballots.

Democratic incumbent Kim Elton, who is running for Senate District B representing all of Juneau, said he was pleased with the 2,516 votes he got. Republican challenger Cathy Muñoz received 2,502 votes.

"It's nice to have gotten a little over 50 percent," Elton said, noting 300 more people voted Republican than Democrat.

He said trying to make any determinations from the primary results probably would prove futile.

"It's like trying to look at a picture of flowers when it's in black and white," Elton said.

He said low voter turnout in Tuesday's election should be a wake-up call to lawmakers that the six-ballot primary discourages voters from participating in elections.

About 21 percent of statewide registered voters voted Tuesday, up from 17 percent, an all-time low, in the 2000 primary.

Muñoz, the Republican challenger, said she plans to continue her grass roots campaign, walking door to door and meeting with her potential constituents.

"I am really pleased with the results and grateful to the voters that showed confidence in me," Muñoz said.

In the House District 4 race, which represents the Mendenhall Valley and all points north, attorney Bruce Weyhrauch, who is running as a Republican, took 1,380 votes, about 60 percent of the votes cast in that district. Tim Grussendorf, a commercial fisherman on the Democratic ticket, got 930 votes, about 40 percent of the votes cast.

Grussendorf said the numbers were skewed by the closed primary system, adding that he believes a lot of nonpartisan and undecided voters picked the Republican ballot so they could vote in the highly contested lieutenant governor's race.

The system has disenfranchised voters, Grussendorf said, noting that it has been the top complaint by constituents on the campaign trail, and many have said they would not vote in the primary because of the new system.

If elected, Grussendorf said he would look at authoring a bill to return the primary system to its original form, which allowed voters to pick candidates across party lines.

Weyhrauch agreed the Legislature needs to address voter disapproval over the closed primary. He said it would be hard to comment on specifics on making changes to the six-ballot primary but added it is important to get voters back to the polls.

Grussendorf said today that a poll in early August by Anchorage pollster Ivan Moore showed him leading Weyhrauch. But Grussendorf would not release the numbers. Weyhrauch said he is not basing his campaign on polling numbers but is just telling voters what he believes in.

"I think people are tired of politics, and they want a substantial discussion of issues," Weyhrauch said.

In the race for House District 3 representing downtown Juneau, Douglas, Lemon Creek and the Juneau Airport area, Republican challenger Mike Race has made ground from the 2000 primary, in which Democratic incumbent Beth Kerttula garnered three times as many votes as he did.

In Tuesday's election Kerttula took about 60 percent of the votes cast in that district, with 1,575 votes, and Race took about 40 percent, with 1,063 votes.

"I really appreciate the people that came out and gave me their support," Race said. "Things are moving ahead as planned."

Calling the upcoming months a "political war game," Race said he does not intend to reveal his strategy but said he expects to debate Kerttula.

Kerttula also said she is pleased with the primary results and thanked everyone who voted "in this confusing primary."

Like her Democratic colleagues, Kerttula said she believes the numbers might have been skewed by the six-ballot primary, with some undeclared voters choosing a particular party's ballot with the intention of voting for just one of the seats and then filling out the rest of the circles out of habit.

"I think it's human nature that when you get a ballot you just want to fill in a blank," Kerttula said.

That artificially could inflate Republicans' voting numbers, Kerttula said.

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



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