Friday, November 07, 2008

Mystery in Alaska

Strange things brewing up in Alaska. . .

Though the popular Governor of the state is on the Republican ticket, and though turnout during the primary in August was up by 12% over 2004, and though turnout nationwide on Tuesday was the highest in 100 years, Alaskans appear not to have voted very much.

In fact, as things stand now, the turnout percentage would be the lowest in Alaska's history.

And it gets more interesting.

Convicted felon and Republican senator Ted Stevens was trailing Democrat Mark Begich by 12.9 points in the final poll before the election on Tuesday. And that was a poll done by Nate Silver at, who wound up with the most accurate pre-election polling results this year. With 98% of the results in, Stevens is currently leading Begich by 1.5%, a positive switch for the Republican of 14.4%.

Well, perhaps the polls were simply wrong. To give you some context, however, think back to Hillary Clinton's upset in New Hampshire. In that case, Hillary was behind 9 points and won by 2, a turnaround of 11%, which was considered one of the greatest comebacks of all time. So convicted felon Ted Stevens surpassed that incredible accomplishment.

But that's not the end of it! Criminal Ted Stevens wasn't the only one to show a 14% turnaround. Republican Rep. Don Young, currently under Federal investigation for taking bribes, illegal gratuities and unreported gifts, was trailing Democrat Ethan Berkowitz by 6.4% in Nate Silver's final poll and is currently winning by 7.7%, a 14.2% turnaround! So Nate Silver, Mr. Accurate, totally screw up two polls in Alaska?

But that's not the end of it! The McCain-Palin ticket also wound up getting 12.4% more than expected in the final poll. So Silver and all of the other pollsters, though they did very well in the rest of the country, missed three races by historic margins. Make sense to you?

Silver posits three "possible explanations" for the results:
1) Democrats became complacent because the election was basically over by 4 pm local time.
2) The 49,000 outstanding absentee and early voting ballots yet to be counted will be heavily Democratic.
3) There are an undisclosed number of "questionable" ballots yet to be counted, and those may be heavily Democratic.

Convicted Felon and Republican Senator Ted Stevens

But looking at Alaskan presidential results since 1960 seems to disprove explanation #1. In Ronald Reagan's 1984 landslide, when he won every state but one (Mondale's home state), and everyone knew the election was over the moment the first results came out that evening, Alaskans still turned out in record numbers. 200,384 voters cast their ballots that year, compared to only 127,954 in 1980. Turnout in Alaska also increased to an historic number in 1964, despite Lyndon Johnson's Democratic landslide. Obama's success this year, though impressive, was nowhere near those overwhelming victories, so why would the good people of Alaska show up for two landslides but not this time?

Also, the Senate and House races were highly publicized affairs, thanks to Stevens' seven felony convictions and Young's own legal troubles. Energized Democrats in the state had a great chance to capture a vitally important Senate seat and another seat in the House. Why would they stay home for those races?

As far as explanations #2 and #3: Though the outstanding ballots may be heavily Democratic and swing at least the Senate race back to Begich, the total numbers still don't add up. It would mean that in this historic election, with their own governor on the ticket, turnout in Alaska would still be 14% less this year than in 2004.

According to Shannyn Moore, that means "54,304 Alaskans got off their sofas and voted for Bush [in 2004], but decided to sit home and not vote for Palin in 2008. In turn, I have to ignore the 30,520 Alaskans who felt progressive enough in 2004 to vote for John Kerry, but weren't inspired to vote for Barack Obama."

And that despite 20,991 newly registered voters.

While it is possible that turnout simply fell off for various reasons this year, I certainly hope that Democratic officials in Alaska are looking into this.

The Washington Post is: "Alaska Turnout, Results Raise Questions."

UPDATE: I did a little digging in Lexis-Nexis and found an article on Reagan's 1984 landslide: "TV NETWORKS CALL THE RACE EARLY, RENEWING DEBATE ON USE OF PROJECTIONS." Sally Bedell Smith. New York Times. November 7, 1984. Section A; Page 21, Column 1.

As I suspected, the TV Networks called the election very early that year. CBS News at 8:01 PM EST, which would've been 4:01 PM in Alaska. ABC and NBC called it a few minutes later. And that doesn't take into consideration the fact that an hour earlier, at 7 PM EST, when the first results came in, Reagan won every single state and was obviously on his way to a landslide victory.

So people in Alaska knew three or four hours earlier in 1984 than they did this year that the election was already decided. Yet they shattered the turnout record for the state in 1984. Why, then, would turnout fall so dramatically this time?


Liam said...

So who is running the election up there? It seems like something extremely fishy (and I'm not talking about the canning industry) is going on in the world's coldest banana republic. The articles I have seen about this appear to be dancing around the idea of a stolen election. Who would be able to do that, logistically speaking?

cowboyangel said...

Sean Parnell, a Republican, is the Lieutenant Governor, who's in charge of overseeing the election.

According to Wikipedia, "Parnell has been endorsed by Governor Palin, National Review magazine, and the Club for Growth."

Perhaps it's just an anomaly. Or several anomalies: Unusually low turnout for what ever reason. AND polls being way, way off.

Maddow had Nate Silver on last night, and I think Olbermann may have covered thestory as well. So, I'm thinking it will continue to gain momentum. There just seem to be too many weird aspects to it.

I'm guessing they can compare the voter rolls to the results, no? They check off your name when you vote. At least in NY. Who knows how it works in Alaska.

Liam said...

Can the entire Alaskan GOP go to jail now, pretty please?

Garpu said...

I'm from Chicago *cough* Daley Family *cough*, and I would be very surprised if there weren't big machine politics going on up there.