Early turnout sets record ahead of Election Day

Even before the polls open Tuesday morning, Alaska’s election is already setting records.

Through Monday morning, 68,547 Alaskans had cast votes in the general election. That’s 13 percent of the state’s 528,879 registered voters and a new record for early voters.

According to posted figures by the Alaska Division of Elections, 31,533 Alaskans voted early at the polls between Oct. 24 (when early voting started) and Monday morning.

In 2004, Alaska had just 10,894 early voters. Four years later, the figure jumped to 24,512 early voters. In 2012, it was 19,937.

“Our numbers for early voting are way up,” said Carol Thompson, director of the state’s absentee-voter program.

Early voting is different from absentee voting. In early voting, the voter’s ID is verified at the polling station. In absentee voting — whether by mail, fax, email or other means — the voter’s identity has to be determined after the ballot enters the box. That means a slower pace of counting.

About 31,000 Alaskans have already cast absentee votes this year, fewer than in past years. In 2012, there were about 61,000 absentee votes cast statewide. Two-thirds of absentee ballots requested this year have already been returned.

The record pace of early voting been apparent at Juneau’s two early-voting sites. At the State Office Building, which has been welcoming voters between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. each weekday, 15 people voted in the first 40 minutes after the doors opened Monday.

Poll worker Hali Denton joked that people were “clawing at the doors” two minutes before 8 o’clock. She predicted a “crazy” scene later in the day and on Election Day, but during Monday’s lunchtime rush, things appeared orderly — if busy.

That was also the scene at the Mendenhall Mall Annex, where the Division of Elections has its regional office. The annex was the only place in Juneau where voters could cast ballots in person Saturday and Sunday, and on Sunday afternoon more than a dozen people stood in line or in polling booths to cast their votes.

One young boy sat with his parents and — after learning why they were at the mall — asked, “Is the president here?”

In all of Alaska elections Region I, which includes House Districts 29 through 36, there were 12,693 ballots filed by Friday. Another 940 were recorded over the weekend.

All early votes cast before Election Day have been set aside and will be counted with the votes cast on Election Day. Absentee votes mailed and received by Oct. 28 will also be counted on Election Day.

Absentee votes that arrive at the Division of Elections after Nov. 1 will be counted as early as Nov. 15. The state allows absentee votes postmarked by Election Day to arrive as late as 15 days after the election.

Votes will be counted Nov. 15, Nov. 18 and Nov. 23.

The Division of Elections intends to certify all the results by Nov. 29.

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