With the dust beginning to settle from Tuesday's primary election, a few storylines are emerging from the results on the Republican and Democratic ballots. Although the results in some races are still too close to call and won't be decided until late this month or early September when all absentee and questioned ballots are added to Tuesday's totals, there are still some valuable lessons that can be taken away from the contests.
Every vote counts
If you're skeptical about whether your input can make a difference in politics, you need look no further than some of the primary races to prove it can. Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, was down by a scant 12 votes to challenger Ronald Gillham. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, trailed primary opponent Aaron Weaver by just three votes. And in retiring Rep. Mike Chenault's district, the Republican primary also saw Wayne Ogle and Benjamin Carpenter separated by three votes. In all three cases, the races could have gone differently (and still might, after absentee and questioned ballots are counted) if a handful of voters had changed their minds, or if a few more supporters of the trailing candidate had bothered to make it to the polls.
Decisions, as they say, are made by those who show up.
Incumbency isn't impervious
Although the name recognition and policy accomplishments of incumbency typically help sitting legislators beat back challengers, a stronger-than-usual tide of anti-incumbent sentiment threatened or toppled several. In addition to the aforementioned contests in which Sen. Micciche and Rep. LeDoux trail by substantial margins, Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, fell to Josh Revak in House District 25. And former Rep. Liz Vazquez was defeated by first-time candidate Sara Rasmussen in District 22. Although each district is different, candidates at Election Central said crime issues and anger over 2016 criminal justice reform legislation Senate Bill 91 were often cited by their constituents as a source of frustration with those who they saw as part of the problem. Another oft-cited factor was anger over reductions to the Permanent Fund dividend that supported the percent-of-market-value deficit reduction plan the Legislature passed earlier this year.
Turnout was woeful
With 436 of Alaska's 442 precincts reporting, turnout Tuesday night stood at 18.20 percent. That number will creep up slightly when absentee and questioned ballots are counted, but not by much. It's also true that the voter rolls swelled as a result of an initiative that automatically registers Alaskans who file for the Permanent Fund dividend, which likely included many people unlikely to take the time to vote. But regardless of the factors at play, it's a shame that fewer than one in five Alaska voters could be bothered to get out and vote Tuesday. That's especially true when you consider that in some primary races, Tuesday's winner will be the de facto winner of the general election since no other party's candidate will appear on the November ballot.
We can, and should, do far better.
Clear choices in November
In many contests, the choices made by primary voters Tuesday set up strong contrasts between the candidates who will appear on ballots in November. On the budget, crime laws, social issues, capital projects and all manner of issues, House and Senate races across Alaska will be contested by candidates with deep gulfs between their positions. It's essential that Alaskans learn about the candidates seeking to represent them before heading to the polls. In our news coverage, as well as in op-ed content and letters to the editor published in the opinion section, we at the Anchorage Daily News will do what we can to make sure you have the information you need to cast an informed vote.
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