Alaskans turn out in large numbers to vote in election

About 15,000 early ballots had been cast in state by late Thursday

Posted: Sunday, November 02, 2008

Early voting is a hit this year as Alaskans line up at regional election centers hoping to beat even longer lines on Election Day.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

About 120 people were waiting to cast a ballot at lunchtime Friday in Anchorage.

Research biologist Dan Van Hees said he was worried something could happen Nov. 4 to prevent him from getting to the polls.

"This is the first time an election is really going to affect my life. I'm only 23 so it's a big one for me," said Van Hees, who waited about 30 minutes to vote.

Republican Party of Alaska Chairman Randy Ruedrich stopped by to check on the lines.

Ruedrich said he always votes absentee by mail to avoid all the "grief," but he's happy to see the turnout so far.

"I just came over to see if Alaskans care, and I find this very encouraging and positive," he said.

Voter turnout is expected to be high across the nation this year, but Alaskans have a number of reasons to be particularly interested.

Gov. Sarah Palin is on the presidential ballot as Republican Sen. John McCain's running mate.

Earlier this year Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, prompted record crowds to the February caucuses around the state. And the U.S. House and Senate races are the most competitive they've been in years.

Elections Division Director Gail Fenumiai said about 15,000 votes had been cast by the end of the day Thursday - 10 days into the 15-day early voting period, which runs through Nov. 4.

That count far surpasses the 10,894 early votes cast over the entire period in 2004.

Anchorage election worker Alisa Garrigues said the crew is busy with about 1,200 voters a day coming through in just the last two days.

But people are friendly and don't seem annoyed by the lines, she said.

"People are voting who've never voted before. It's an exciting time," she said.

Fenumiai said the votes cast through Thursday will be counted on election night and the remainder will counted within 10 days following the election.

That's to avoid having anyone vote more than once. That was discovered to have been a problem in the August primary when 26 people who cast a ballot both absentee and on election day ended up having their vote counted twice.

Fenumiai said until Thursday, the regional election centers could note on the precinct registers if someone voted. The registers are the voter lists that eligible voters sign at their precinct when they arrive to cast a ballot.

Those registers had to be picked up Thursday by the precinct chairs and were no longer available for notation, Fenumiai said. So the rest of the early and all the absentee ballots will have to be cross checked and counted after election night.

"We feel this is the best way to nip the duplicative voting that unfortunately happens," Fenumiai said.

Early voting is available at regional offices in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks, Juneau and Nome.

Fenumiai said the division also has received about 31,000 by mail and in-person absentee ballots so far. More than 61,500 people voted absentee in person, by mail, by fax or by the special needs process in the 2004 general election.

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