I cast my first vote in August 1964, a college student home for the summer. There were no write-ins for statewide office.
Since then, there have been three major write-ins -- in '68 and '78 and '98. Now Lisa Murkowski is running the fourth.
Although spread over decades, these write-ins -- two for governor, two for U.S. senator -- share a common characteristic: The candidates who launched them refused to accept the primary election returns.
A friend calls such write-ins "attempting a comeback through the loser's bracket."
In 1968, challenger Mike Gravel defeated Sen. Ernest Gruening. The 81 year-old Gruening had been at the center of Alaska public life for almost 30 years as governor, senator and a leader of the statehood movement. When the voters said "No more" he said "No Way." Gravel crushed him in November.
In 1978, former governor Wally Hickel lost a primary bid to defeat incumbent Jay Hammond. The vote count was close and chaotic. On election night, Hickel thought he won. So there was more than sour grapes to his write-in, which inspired intense passion but nevertheless failed.
In 1998, Sen. Robin Taylor finished second to businessman John Lindauer in a three-way Republican primary. Media investigations suggested Lindauer had financed his campaign illegally, and Taylor pounced on allegations of corruption as the basis for his write-in. He finished slightly ahead of Lindauer but far behind winner Gov. Tony Knowles. More than 40,000 people put some version of the name Robin Taylor on their ballots.
Like Gruening, Hickel, and Taylor, Lisa Murkowski is in the loser's bracket.
Much has been made of the logistical difficulties facing a write-in candidate, starting with the challenge of convincing tens of thousands of Alaskans to ignore the names printed on the ballot. Plus voters have to spell the write-in's name close to correctly and fill in the nearby oval properly. Murkowski is a special challenge to Alaskans who never won a spelling bee.
Yet if ballot logistics are important, they are less important than the results of the primary election. If you are Murkowski, how do you tell the voters they made a mistake in August? In our system the voters are always right -- even when they are wrong.
In a recent television commercial, Murkowski looks the camera in the eye and asks the voters to pull together for Alaska. She might as well be singing Smokey Robinson's "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," which after all begins "I know you want to leave me/But I refuse to let you go."
Lisa Murkowski is trying to say "outsiders" poisoned the electoral well with tainted tea party money but that suggests the voters were dupes, too dense to understand the dynamics of the summer campaign. And what is Murkowski promising? The status quo. If you elect me you will get -- more of the same! Now there's a rallying cry -- at least for the interest groups that have benefited from Lisa Murkowski.
It's a strange scene: Murkowski, the living embodiment of the Establishment, running as an insurgent promising business as usual.
Voters suffer remorse frequently, and they're willing to change their minds. But so far in Alaska's history, the voters have been unwilling to change their minds after a brief write-in campaign. Lisa Murkowski has adopted the slogan "Let's Make History." It's an inspired choice. If she wins, she will make history. No doubt about it.
Michael Carey is the former editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org