Alex Gimarc: Voter suppression and missed opportunities

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By ALEX GIMARC

The biggest question out of the Nov. 8, 2022 election here in Alaska concerns the drop in voters this time around compared with 2018.  As election seasons go, this one was massive and should have attracted more interest from voters than recent non-presidential years.

Look at what we had on the ballot.  We had a very expensive race for US Senate, a Democrat in the US House for the first time in 50 years, a gubernatorial race, nearly 60 legislators up for election following redistricting, a constitutional convention, and as always, 20 or so judges up for retention.

Yet Alaskans didn’t turn out to vote this time around.  Why?  

Before delving into the why, a review of basic numbers is in order. 

At its most basic, 267,047 out of 601,745 registered voters turned out in Nov 2022, a 44.38% turnout. In contrast, the last gubernatorial race in 2018 had 285,009 out of 571,851 turnout, a 49.84 turnout. That race only had a governor’s race, U.S. House for Don Young, 25 legislators, the protect the Salmon ballot initiative, and 20 or so judges.  

Compare the numbers and roughly 18,000 fewer Alaskans voted this year out of a pool 30,000 larger than 2018.  

Who stayed home?

  • Republican turnout was down 3,200 voters, 2.2%, though they had the best turnout of all registered groups in November, at 55.2%.
  • Democrats were next, down 3,200, 4.1%. Their turnout was not bad, at 52.5% of their registered voters.
  • Non-Partisans were down 4,500 voters, 5.4%. Their turnout was 48.3%
  • Worst were the Undeclareds, down 6,900 voters, 2.6%, with a miserable 34% turnout.  

Based on analysis of this year, it was missed opportunity, a big one. Had Republicans turned out in larger numbers, we could have elected Kelly Tshibaka, defeated Congresswoman Mary Peltola, picked up at least two seats in the state Senate (Sen. Mia Costello, who lost by 597; and Jim Matherly, who lost by 692), and at least three in the state House (David Nelson, who lost by 77; Forrest Wolfe, who lost by 150; and Jeremy Bynum, who lost by 343). 

The low turnout protected Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Rep. Peltola, and gave us coalitions in the Senate (maybe also the House) rather than majorities.  

While a 55% turnout for Republicans was the best this year, it is far smaller than other historic elections. For example, the 2020 presidential year Republican turnout was 73%. A 63% Republican turnout this year was quite possible and would have run the table, bringing another 10,000 Republicans to the ballot box. 

A great question to Alaska Republican Party Chair Ann Brown and National Committeeman Craig Campbell would be why did they fail to prioritize turning out Republicans to vote this year? A follow-up would be:  Did they even try?

Why else would Republicans stay home?

One problem is that those purportedly on “our side” have for years railed against absentee voting, by mail voting, and early voting as vectors all but ensuring corruption in elections at the state and local levels.  And when conservative / Republican voters believe their voting or participation is no longer relevant, they stay home. When we stay home, we don’t win. And we shouldn’t.  

One of the worst offenders pushing this narrative has been Dan Fagan on his morning KENI radio show. He incessantly complains about how Alaskan elections are rife with fraud.  

I suggested last April that this was a form of (perhaps) unintentional voter suppression following endless complaints about the Muni elections.  Six months later, we have better proof based on turnout last month.  Having learned absolutely nothing about what happened, Fagan was back at it again Monday Nov 28, blasting away at fraudulent, corrupt elections in Alaska as the explanation for lack of Republican wins.  

When our side believes this stuff some of them stay home, the very definition of voting suppression. Nice work, Dan. Congratulations.

I do take exception with the charge of dirty elections in Alaska. We have three voting systems in Alaska. First is the absentee voting system.  These ballots require some effort to obtain. Most importantly, they are closely tracked, and have been for 30 years. The other two are by-mail voting (Muni only) and election day voting.  

The biggest problem that I can see for both by-mail and election day voting is that Alaskan Republicans have chosen not to strongly play in early voting. Nationally, this approach cost Republicans at least three Senate seats in Nov (Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada).  It probably cost us Assembly and School Board seats here in Anchorage, contributing to Democrat majorities in both bodies.  On the other hand, Republicans used it to sweep elections in FL. Regardless of what any of us think about the new rules, we must play by them in order to win.  And we will never change those new rules unless we win elections, which once again means simply showing up.

Observations on Nov 8

It is beyond ironic that the ranked-choice voting system specifically designed to reduce the importance of political parties in Alaska was an abject failure, as the political parties did the very best job of all groups turning their people out to vote.

The people in the middle, the undeclared and non-partisans, who make this system work, simply didn’t turn out, yet nobody, especially the Scott Kendalls of the world who pushed the election reform initiative two years ago, are publicly asking why. Perhaps because their preferred candidate won, and collateral damage down ballot due to the new system simply doesn’t matter to them.  

Turnout for all identified groups was down in the first complete year of ranked-choice voting, meaning it worked just as poorly increasing participation as it did controlling dark money into elections in Alaska — it worked not at all, yet another reason to repeal it.

Conclusions

Words have meaning. When we have a significant part of the electorate on our side that is under the impression that elections in this state are corrupt, and some on our side are doing their level best to confirm that impression every single day, our voters won’t turn out.  And we will never win an election unless our side turns out.  

If and when we get actual election fraud, get on it like white on rice. Identify what happened, who did it, where it was done, and how it was done.  

Finally, and most importantly, come up with a solution to make sure it doesn’t happen again. These days, I hear a lot of complaining and precious few solutions.  

My solution? Go vote. Do it early. Do it often. Get your friends, neighbors and family to vote. But vote, even if we have to embrace early voting completely. Never, ever stay home.  

Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.

11 COMMENTS

  1. If you want more voters fix the voting process. 1 person at a time filling out 1 ballot and put into a box. Clean up the process. Keep it simple.

  2. Dan Fagan is ….searching for the right word here….tiring. He alternates between fanboy and butt hurt. I stopped listening to him years ago. But I understand his ratings are good.

    Craig Campbell would have us believe the problem is us. We prols aren’t bright enough to understand the wisdom of our betters. Very progressive of him. Sad part was, he was on the cusp of getting it before losing his way.

    Campbell was right in his assertion we need to be more involved at the grass roots. But wore his blinders as to why many aren’t.

    We are where we are for several simple reasons.

    -I’ll give Campbell this one. Conservative voters are lazy. They can’t bother to vote when the ballot comes to their door. And they can’t bother to attend things like school board meetings until things have already gone off the rails.

    But….

    -the GOP offers a bad product. One that does not merit support.
    -Weak feckless candidates
    -an inability (disinterest?) in policing their candidates
    -elected officials who say one thing and then predictably do the opposite.
    -weaker, more feckless leadership.

    I watched, impressed, by the left’s ability to manage its resources.
    -door knockers everywhere.
    -discipline in the candidates ranks
    -the ability to adapt to RVC and early voting
    -the ability to seduce voters
    -the ability to bring in money and volunteers from out of state
    -the willingness and ability to cut Al Gross off at the knees when he was a potential liability.

    Nothing stops the GOP from doing this except the GOP itself. When you bring a pocket knife to a political gunfight, you’re gonna lose. For some reason the GOP nationwide can’t learn this lesson. Or doesn’t want to.

    I can’t blame voters for choosing not to support inferior candidates who have track records of folding.

    Let’s look at RVC.
    -The GOP mouthpiece Porcaro used his business to promote it despite being pushed by the most vile man (Kendall) in Alaska politics.
    -they did little to nothing to try to stop it.
    -no one challenged the ethics or legality of allowing it to be promoted on the air by a man making money off of it.
    -once adopted, there was no statewide effort to promote how to use it to the rights advance.
    -there was no statewide effort to encourage the use of early voting and drop boxes
    -there was no get out the vote effort
    -there was no effort to educate voters on who the conservative candidates were.
    -and on and on and on.

    And there was the whole Sarah Palin fiasco. I didn’t get it, but I came to understand it. It’s a classic illustration of the bigger problem.

    We the conservative voters of Alaska by and large have been offered inferior choices by an inferior organization. While some voters are indeed lazy, many have judged the product inferior and the organization (I love the Brit term) not fit for purpose.

    We didn’t vote and the election results were unfortunate because we don’t like the product and will not spend our money and votes on it.

    The rise of Trump and the Cult of Palin are classic illustrations of this. So many conservative voters are so turned off by what the GOP offers they turn to damn near anyone who offers the illusion of willingness to fight for them.

    If anyone is suppressing conservative voters, it’s the GOP itself.

  3. “……I do take exception with the charge of dirty elections in Alaska……..”
    I see from the bio paragraph at the end of your commentary that you missed the 1982 general election here. Knowledge of history helps one understand current events. I can assure you, sir, that Alaska (just like every other locale under the sun) features dirty elections. Sone events are uglier than others, but every election that occurs includes graft.

  4. Just like the left promoted Trump’s candidates in the primaries in order to handily beat them in the general, I too think they have highlighted Trump’s election fraud claims in order to suppress republican voter turnout.
    Maybe Fagan should do some naval gazing and stop his blabbering. It’s time to recognize that the election game has changed, and the old methods simply won’t work anymore. Instead of incessantly whining about losing the last three(!) elections, how about figuring out how to beat them at their own game and turn out the vote, and win the next one?

  5. With zero evidence Gimarc’s observations are actually more harmful than Fagan’s. Fagan is paid to stir up BS. Gimarc fails to mention that MAGA followers are primarily responsible for promoting and advancing losers in closed primaries. Gimarc closes by asking voters to commit felonies by “Do it often” after asking voters to “Go vote”

  6. Sad hit piece on Dan Fagan, one of the GREATEST TELLERS OF TRUTH Alaska has. Dan strongly and often encouraged people to vote, and explained how rank choice voting works, so people would vote — while telling the TRUTH about what’s actually going on. I listen every day. Maybe Gimarc does not. He certainly doesn’t appreciate the gift Dan is to us.

    Many people didn’t vote because they couldn’t understand rank choice voting, because they did not listen to sources like the Dan Fagan Show.

  7. Any discussion of turnout proceeds from a faulty if not outright false premise: we simply do not know how many living breathing, actually in the district registered voters we have. The registered voter rolls were not purged at all during the Obama/Walker years and from my observation roll maintenance has been at best lackadaisical under the current administration.

    Fundamentally, we don’t know if the decline in turnout from 20 to 22 is because people sat home or because they’re not here anymore, and in some cases, they never were here. Registered Republicans tend to be the sort of people that stay in one place. Leaving aside their college recruitment and other transient constituencies they seek, even registered Democrats also tend to be the kind of people who stay in one place. Both the registered R and D numbers and turnout are probably pretty reflective of the reality of who lives here and actually voted.

    The registered No Party (N/P) voter is likely a public employee or someone whose business or social position makes a partisan identity inconvenient. In reality, a partisan identity makes your livelihood unsafe. The Republicans usually leave public employees alone below the appointee level unless the employee has been some sort of activist. The Democrats purge everyone in the government that has ever had a Republican thought; merit system rules be damned.

    The undeclared voter is as Alex said, likely a PFD registration who may or may not even exist as a living, breathing person domiciled in Alaska. The PFD registration is perhaps the dumbest thing the People of Alaska have ever done. Permanent Fund Division of the Department of Revenue has almost no fraud prevention or detection capability, so anybody who can fill out the form or have someone fill it out for them becomes a registered voter whether they’re living or dead or a resident of Alaska or not.

    The undeclared registrant is the most fertile ground for fraud. If someone has a name, address, and a body, they can vote. In Anchorage’s mail-in fraud machine, you don’t even need the body.

    I don’t know that there is actually much fraud; so far the left hasn’t had to really resort to the 3AM ballot delivery here that we know of. The long “early voting” period gives the unions and other organized entities a tremendous advantage in going out and harvesting ballots. If you’re harvesting ballots, it is really easy to manufacture ballots, but we don’t have any meaningful proof of that, yet.

    • Another area ripe for fraud is the 2 week delay after election day for absentee ballots to be accepted and counted. If a program can tell you the super voters are, it can also point out the non-voters. What are the odds of one of these people showing up to vote. Get the election day results, do some simple math, then produce the votes needed for the win.

  8. Dan Fagan and Representative Eastman are cut from the same cloth, they are both wonderfully effective leftists. Dan Fagan undermines each and every Republican, unless they meet his purity test which is seemingly ever changing. I don’t have a problem pointing out the truth like Murkowski being a RINO, we all know that, but when he goes on and on about election fraud without ever saying anything or bringing any actual information to light it isn’t helpful. His constant insults of Senator Sullivan and Governor Dunleavy show that he does not understand politics, he only understands ratings.

  9. Dan Fagan responds to Gimarc’s hit piece at the beginning of his show on Wednesday. I fully agree with Dan. Truth matters! We need to hear the truth, not be manipulated. And that’s what Dan gives us, to the best of his ability. Dan is a gem!

    Do a search for “Dan Fagan Show” to hear the podcast.

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