ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: Election officials in Alaska were preparing for record-breaking turnout on Tuesday, with hyper-competitive House and Senate races — and, of course, a popular home-state governor having won a spot on Sen. John McCain’s ticket.
But Election Day is looking like it was a turnout bust in Alaska. As of Thursday, voter turnout in the state stood at a measly 45.1 percent — well below the 69.1 percent turnout clocked in in the 2004 presidential race, according to state election officials.
The 2008 number is certain to rise significantly as additional absentee and provisional ballots are tallied. But turnout specialists say it’s clear that the so-called “Palin effect” Republicans expected to see didn’t drive up voting numbers in Gov. Sarah Palin’s home state.
“It’s just perplexing to me,” said Michael McDonald, a George Mason University professor who specializes in voter turnout. “You can make some inferences, I guess, about Sarah Palin’s future. If this was a referendum on her in the state, perhaps there’s not as much enthusiasm about her as their used to be.”
Shelly Growden, Alaska’s elections systems manager, tells ABC News that the current vote totals don’t tell the full story. At least 70,000 absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted, she said.
The state won’t know for several days even how many absentee and provisional ballots were issued, or many of those will be received in time to counted. In Alaska, absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day but can arrive as many as 10 days after the election if mailed domestically, and 15 days if sent from overseas, Growden said.
She said she expects final 2008 turnout to have exceeded the 60.1 percent recorded in the 2000 election, though it still probably won’t approach the numbers reached in 2004.
“We were preparing for it to be higher,” Growden said.
The numbers are particularly surprising not just because of Palin but because, for the first time in recent history in Alaska, two competitive congressional races were being decided.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was bidding for an eighth term in a race that remains too close for a winner to be declared. And Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was vying for a 19th term as the state’s sole House member, in another race where no winner has yet been determined.
Alaska was not seriously contested at the presidential level. The McCain-Palin ticket cruised to Alaska’s three electoral votes, winning by a 62-36 margin as of Thursday’s latest count.
And turnout in Alaska may have been impacted by the relatively early resolution of the presidential contest. Polls closed there at 1 am ET, some two hours after the major networks projected that Sen. Barack Obama would win the presidency.
More likely, McDonald said, is that the tattered state of the Republican Party nationally and locally kept GOP voters home. Stevens was convicted on federal felony charges last month, and Young is also under criminal investigation — and was the proud champion of the much-derided “Bridge to Nowhere” project.
Either explanation for the lower-than-expected turnout probably isn’t good news for Palin, who returns to Alaska with two years left on her gubernatorial term, McDonald said.
“By all accounts, turnout should have been up in Alaska,” he said.