Whatever one’s opinion on the candidates running for president this year, Alaska’s presidential preference poll and caucus have shown a higher level of civic engagement by residents who are often detached from the selection process. Voter numbers from Saturday’s Democratic caucus and the Republican presidential preference poll earlier this month were at their highest levels ever.
Some with a more pessimistic temperament might be inclined to see the increased participation in closed primaries as evidence of heightened polarization of U.S. national politics. Certainly, there’s some evidence that is at least partially the case. The partisan gulf between Republican and Democratic candidates is certainly as wide or wider than it has been in recent memory — perhaps as wide as in any presidential election since 1964, when Barry Goldwater’s strongly conservative views alienated more moderate Republican voters.
But there’s also a more positive way to look at the primary contests in Alaska. At Pioneer Park on March 1 and at the Carlson Center on Saturday, long lines stretched hundreds of feet out the entrance of the polling place, and many of those participating were participating in the voting process for the first time. Whether because of age, apathy or some other reason, many Alaskans never register to vote, even when the process is relatively quick and easy. But this year, a newfound engagement with the process led many of those Alaskans to come off the sidelines and not only register their preference for U.S. president, but to wait in long lines for as long as an hour and a half to do so.
The newly registered voters’ motivations are surely varied — some are excited for a particular candidate, some strongly opposed to the candidates of the other party. Others feel it’s just time to weigh in and play a part in choosing who will continue to the general election. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to cast an increase in attention paid to the political process as a negative development. Here’s hoping these newly motivated voters will continue to maintain their involvement in civic affairs and help select elected officials who are representative of all Alaskans.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,