Thursday, November 06, 2008

Something stinks in Alaska

By Michael J.W. Stickings

"What In The Hell Happened in Alaska?" asked Nate Silver yesterday.

Good question.

As of right now, Republican incumbent Ted Stevens is leading Democratic challenger Mark Begich 48 to 47 (with 99 percent reporting) in their Senate race. The margin is 3,353 (with almost 210,000 votes counted).

As I mentioned yesterday, however, there are tens of thousands of ballots left to count: absentee and early ballots, as well as questioned ones.

So what stinks?

1) As Nate Silver points out, even with all the ballots left to be counted, the total number of votes will only be about 270,000, far less than the 313,000 cast in 2004.

2) As Nate also points out, the polls showed Begich well ahead. And it wasn't just the Senate race. The polls also showed Republican incumbent Don Young well behind Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz in their House race (Young ended up winning by a fairly large margin, 52 to 44) and the presidential race much closer than it turned out to be (McCain won by 26 points). So, "even if Begich were to make up ground and win a narrow victory, this would seem to represent a catastrophic failure of polling."

Nate posits three possible explanations:

1) Democratic complency (suppressing Democratic turnout and keeping turnout down overall).

2) Heavy Democratic bias in absentee and early voting (meaning that Begich could overtake Stevens and the other two votes could tighten).

3) Heavy Democratic bias among the "questionable" ballots (meaning that many Democratic votes weren't counted, suggesting possible corruption).

All three may be right.

What remains curious, though, is the significantly lower vote count than in 2004 -- can complacency really be the reason? Don't rule out the possibility of corruption here, or at least a Florida-like bias against Democratic ballots.

Alaska, after all, is hardly a bastion of clean and open government.

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