Gail Phillips: Remember to vote, Alaska; every ballot counts

In Alaska, we like our elections razor-thin -- particularly in the primary when most of the electorate stays home.

Four years ago was a particularly good year for close elections. Despite a white-hot U.S. Senate race and an important abortion ballot measure, only a third of the electorate bothered to vote in the primary. That was the primary that saw Dan Saddler hold off Bill Cook by four votes, Eric Feige down Don Haase by 12 votes and Pete Fellman by 19 and Joe Miller outpoll Sen. Lisa Murkowski by a mere 4.5 votes per precinct.

Both Saddler and Feige sailed to easy victory in the 2010 general election when 52 percent of the electorate opted to vote: Saddler by 55 percent and Feige by 59 percent. Lisa waged her historic write-in campaign that fall, besting Miller by just over 11,000 votes, or 26 votes per precinct.

This tradition dates back to 1867 when the Senate ratified the treaty that approved the Alaska purchase by a single vote (it required a two-thirds majority). One was also the margin of victory for Ann Spohnholz in the District 1 Democratic primary in 1996 when 30 percent of the electorate made it to the polls.

With 32 percent of voters bothering to participate in the 2006 primary, Bryce Edgmon and Carl Moses ended up tied after a recount, with 765 votes each. Edgmon won on a coin toss.

With so many elections too close for comfort, it's vitally important that Alaskans make a real effort to vote on Aug. 19. In addition to the hotly contested U.S. Senate primary race, there's Ballot Measure 1, which will determine if we continue to stem the decline in oil production -- as we have under tax reform -- or return to the failed policy of ACES.

Under ACES, North Slope average yearly production plummeted by more than 200,000 barrels a day, which meant that Alaska missed out on the great oil boom that swept the nation. Every oil and gas-producing state except Alaska managed to increase production during the years ACES was law: North Dakota up 58 percent, Texas up 36 percent, Colorado up 25 percent.

In 1989, Alaska's oil production accounted for 25 percent of U.S. production. Today that number has slipped to 7 percent even though Alaska's oil and natural gas deposits account for almost 30 percent of the nation's energy reserves. The reason is ACES.

In a state where oil funds up to 90 percent of the General Fund, declining production is a threat we cannot afford. But to keep tax reform working for Alaska, Alaskans need to vote.

Alaska gives its voters lots of ways to vote: by absentee, early voting, at the airport or in person at your local precinct on Election Day. You can find all the options online at www.elections.alaska.gov.

Whatever voting method is most convenient for you, just be sure to vote -- because your vote could be the deciding one. Like the 1990 mayor's race in Cordova where Margy Johnson won by a single vote -- but whose margin of victory rose to two after a recount.

Gail Phillips is a former Alaska legislator and was speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.