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Case of Alaska's Missing Votes Solved

POSTED: 02:50 PM ET, 11/18/2008 by Derek Kravitz

Top: Anchorage's Democratic Mayor Mark Begich, right, and wife Deborah Bonito navigate a crowd of supporters Nov. 5. (Rob Stapelton / AP) Bottom: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) reacts to election night returns showing him ahead of Begich, Nov. 4. (Johnny Wagner / Getty)

Days after Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens appeared headed to an unlikely victory for a seventh term, pollsters and elections officials were left scratching their heads about what appeared to be a surprisingly low voter turnout in the Last Frontier.

Did Sen. John McCain's early concession speech keep some Republican voters away from the polls? Were votes not being counted? Had Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's name on the presidential ticket inexplicably not rallied GOP support in her home state?

But nearly two weeks later, Stevens, fresh off a felony conviction for lying about improper gifts he received from a wealthy friend, seems destined to lose and Alaska appears headed to its highest voter turnout ever.

Nearly a third of the ballots cast weren't counted until after Nov. 4, Alaska elections officials say.

Turns out that 24,000 absentee and questioned ballots will be counted today, likely pushing the total vote tally above 320,000 and into the history books. (Also to be counted are absentee ballots that will be arriving from overseas through Wednesday.)

"That's contrary to hand-wringing about why Alaskans didn't show up for this historic election, and even some speculation that ballots weren't being counted," writes the Anchorage Daily News' Sean Cockerham.

"I think people were premature to jump to conclusions that voter turnout was very low. It's apparent that a large number of people in this state chose to vote absentee versus in person on Election Day," Gail Fenumiai, state elections division director, told the Daily News.

Most analysts now expect Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich to pull out a slim victory over Stevens, who was found guilty on lying on Senate financial disclosure forms just eight days before Election Day. Begich now leads Stevens by 1,022 votes out of a total of 293,000 cast, according to the Alaska Elections Division. (Side note: it's Stevens's 85th birthday today.)

As a result, Bob Bird, the high school social studies teacher who ran for governor as a nominee of the conservative Alaska Independence Party, might turn out to be the most important third-party candidate in all of the 2008 elections. Bird grabbed 4 percent of the vote, enough to put a sizable dent in Stevens's total, The Post's Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane note.

(A Stevens defeat would also complicate Palin's political ambitions, writes Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, on The Wall Street Journal's "Political Perceptions" blog. It would remove Palin's ability to appoint herself in Stevens's place if he were forced to step down.

"If Gov. Palin wants to run for president in 2012, common sense says she will appoint herself or run for [the Senate seat], which would require her to stand for re-election in that job in 2010," Brown says.)

Another sign of trouble for Stevens: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) announced today he'll hold off on a move to expel "Uncle Ted" from the GOP conference and strip him of committee assignments starting in January, pending the outcome of his re-election bid, Reuters reports.

By Derek Kravitz |  November 18, 2008; 2:50 PM ET
Previous: FBI Found Mailer's Literary Style 'Obscene and Bitter' | Next: Clinton to Help Wife, EPA Relaxing Rules, Cheney and Gonzales Indicted in Texas


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I must have missed some reports on this Senate race, when were the missing votes found? and where were the supposedly cast? might that be a Stevens stronghold?
I am hoping for his defeat to send a breath of FRESH AIR to Washington, that is other than a washington cornerstone.

Posted by: myBuddy | November 18, 2008 3:46 PM

There never were any "missing votes" in the sense of lost ballots or bags of ballots in the trunk of somebody's car. There were just a lot of early votes and absentee ballots that were not counted until after election day. Quite honestly, media coverage of the ballot counting has been confusing. Go to state's website, for updated totals. The website is not exactly a model of clarity either.

Posted by: seeker5 | November 18, 2008 6:38 PM

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