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Where Were Alaska's Voters?

By producer David Morgan.

It was a historic election for many reasons - massive voter registration drives, the first African American at the top of a presidential ticket, and an economy in turmoil that brought intense focus on the role of the next president in facing the crisis.

It was a historic election for Alaska in particular: the state's governor, who enjoyed high popularity in her home state, became the first female Republican nominee for high office, firing up the GOP's conservative base and, for a time, putting the McCain-Palin ticket in the lead in some post-convention polls.

The state's Senate race, on the cusp of Sen. Ted Stevens' conviction in federal court on corruption charges, was also a major news event.

Yet, voter turnout in Alaska was decidedly lower than it was four years ago.

Out of 495,731 registered voters in the state, the Board of Elections has reported 224,057 ballots counted; absentee ballots (53,446) and ballots cast in early voting (9,507) were still not added to the total. In addition, there are 18,271 more "questionable" ballots (including provisional ballots) which must be verified.

If all ballots cast were accepted and added together, the total - 305,281 - is less than the total number of votes cast in the 2004 general election (314,502), despite an increase of 23,571 registered voters this year.

The number of votes cast for the Democratic and Republican tickets were both down (though somewhat more on the Republican side).

In 2004, 190,889 Alaskans voted for Bush-Cheney; in comparison, of the votes counted so far, 136,585 voted for McCain-Palin.

Similarly, while 111,025 votes were cast for Kerry-Edwards in 2004, the Obama-Biden ticket garnered 80,505 votes this year.

Alaska wasn't the only state to record lower voter turnouts. While both red and blue states exceeded turnouts from last time (Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and South Carolina among them), and a few set records, some states recorded lower voter turnout percentages than the last presidential race, including Maryland, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Arizona - John McCain's home state.

In Arizona, 2,034,276 votes were cast this year compared to 2,038,069 in 2004 - 3,793 fewer. However, the number of registered voters in the state this year was 2,987,451 - 344,120 more than there were four years ago. So the percentage of registered Arizonans who came out for a presidential election featuring one of their own actually fell, from 77.1% to 68.1%.

The shortfall in the home states of the GOP nominees is striking, although several factors could contribute to it - declining pre-Election Day poll numbers, for one. And while Gov. Palin is personally very popular in her state, McCain wasn't; in Alaska's GOP caucuses last February, Mitt Romney came out on top with 44%, followed by Mike Huckabee (22%) and Ron Paul (17%). McCain came in fourth, with 16%.

Meanwhile, the more than 81,000 uncounted ballots in Alaska have left the state's Senate and House races up in the air for now; the elections office cannot begin counting them until 10 days following Election Day.

Projections released by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, based on preliminary figures, indicate that, nationwide, voter turnout was up only slightly from 2004.

Based on the number of votes cast against citizens eligible to vote (as opposed to measuring votes cast against registered voters), CSAE said that 61.2% voted this year, vs. 60.6% in 2004, when there were 6.5 million fewer Americans eligible to vote.

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