AJOC EDITORIAL: Turnout doesn't measure up to options on the ballot
I usually don’t buy into post-election hand-wringing over voter turnout for a simple reason: If you don’t care enough to vote then I really don’t want you having a hand in the outcome anyway.
That said, however, the extremely low turnout for the 2014 general election is mystifying.
After 100 percent of the precincts were counted by the wee hours of Nov. 5 and a lonely correspondent from CNN had the vacated Egan Center all to himself at 7 a.m. Eastern time blearily reporting on the Alaska results, only 44.8 percent of the state’s nearly 510,000 registered voters had cast a ballot.
Even adding in the 20,000 or so outstanding absentees and questioned ballots only gets turnout to a bit less than 49 percent.
Leading up to Tuesday, I’d mentioned more than once at my local watering hole — where talking politics is allowed — that given the smorgasbord of issues and diverse candidates on the ballot that it should be the highest turnout in Alaska history (of course that was before I looked up the numbers, which I’ll discuss below).
After all, if you couldn’t find something on this year’s ballot that could get you out to the polls then I can’t imagine another set of choices that could.
There was a governor’s race that suddenly became competitive in the last two months of the year through an unprecedented and opportunistic combination of a Republican and a Democrat ticket with Bill Walker and Byron Mallott.
That alone was enough to change a yawner of a race into a nail-biter, but throw in the central issue of the emerging Alaska LNG Project between Walker and Gov. Sean Parnell and there was far more than a just four-year term on the line.
While the governor’s race featured a contest between two Republicans, there was a U.S. Senate race featuring the highest spending ever in the state that offered as clear a choice as can be imagined.
The stakes were no less than the control of the upper body of Congress, the demotion of Majority Leader Harry Reid and the ascendency of Sen. Lisa Murkowski to the most powerful position for Alaska since the late Sen. Ted Stevens chaired Appropriations.
Even our eternal congressman Don Young made his challenge from Forrest Dunbar interesting with his increasingly rough and reckless pronouncements that were possibly once endearing but now are more than a little wearisome.
Throw in not one, but three statewide ballot measures alternately known as “pot, pay and Pebble” or “weed, wages and watersheds” plus the hotly debated Anchorage labor union ordinance repeal for the state’s population hub and there really was something for everyone.
But in the end it looks like turnout won’t crack 50 percent for this race, which would make it the lowest turnout in a nonpresidential/gubernatorial general election for any cycle going back to 1978. (Division of Elections records don’t break down turnout before 1976). The previous best was 74.9 percent in 1982 when nine bond issues were on the ballot, and the previous low was 50.1 percent in 1998.
As I mentioned at the top, if you didn’t vote because you don’t care then I’m glad. But for the first time I’m actually curious why.