Registered voters in Juneau turned out to the polls this year by about 15 percentage points higher than the rest of the state.
Poll results won't be certified by the state Division of Elections until near the end of November, according to elections official Tom Godkin. But preliminary figures show 67 percent of registered voters made it to the polls in Juneau, compared to 52 percent in the rest of the state.
"We're a government town and more people are aware," said Cheryl Jebe of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, an organization dedicated to registering voters and keeping them informed on political issues.
Godkin said about 58,000 absentee ballots were requested statewide in this year's general election, almost twice as many as in past elections. But that sort of boost in voting was not reflected at the polls in Juneau or in the state as a whole.
About 14,500 more Alaskans voted this year than in 2002, and that number could increase once uncounted absentee ballots are tallied. This year's election, however, drew 40,000 fewer voters than in 2000 - a trend that bucks apparent national records for voter turnout this election.
Voter turnout in Juneau changed little from 2002, with about 634 more voters making it to the polls this year.
Residents of other parts of the state are less connected to politics than are Juneauites because of the number of government jobs here, said Gerald McBeath, a political science professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
The number of educated people is higher in Juneau than other parts of the state and the incomes are higher, McBeath said.
"People with higher incomes and education are more likely to vote," he said.
McBeath said most Alaskans feel elections will have a bearing on their personal income, largely because the federal government plays such a large role in how resources are developed in Alaska. He said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's campaign set the agenda for the race by focusing the dialogue on benefits delivered to Alaska by an all-Republican delegation as compared to one composed of Republicans and Democrats.
The campaign hammered on that message through commercials warning that Alaska's powerful Sen. Ted Stevens would lose his chairmanship in the Senate Commerce Committee if Democrats, with the help of Alaska Democratic Senate candidate Tony Knowles, took control of that body away from the Republicans.
McBeath said the more citizens feel a connection to government, the higher the turnout at the polls. That was best illustrated in the early 1980s, when the state had billions in capital from oil money. That resulted in statewide voter turnouts as high as 65 percent to 70 percent, McBeath said.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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