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.
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.