Observers sense 'something fishy' in Alaska vote
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Friday November 7, 2008

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The 2008 presidential race is over, but several Senate races still remain undecided. Georgia is headed for a runoff, Minnesota for a recount -- and in Alaska things just keep getting stranger.

"It looks like senator and convicted felon Ted Stevens and Congressman-currently-under-investigation Don Young will both hold onto their seats," MSNBC's Rachel Maddow noted on Thursday. "That said, there's a case to be made that there's something fishy going on up there."

Even though the polls this year have generally been pretty accurate, they were way off in Alaska. Stevens was running between 7% and 22% behind his Democratic challenger in the polls, but now he is narrowly ahead in the vote count

Polling analysis website comments, "The emerging conventional wisdom is that there was some sort of a Bradley Effect in this contest -- voters told pollsters that they weren't about to vote for that rascal Ted Stevens, when in fact they were perfectly happy to. Convicted felons are the new black, it would seem. The problem with this theory is that the polling failures in Alaska weren't unique to Stevens."

The polls also consistently showed Rep. Young as losing by at least 6%, but he is currently ahead in the vote count by 8%. Even in the presidential race, where polls showed McCain leading by 14% or less, the vote count has him winning by 61% to 35% -- precisely the same margin as George Bush in 2004. That represents a polling error of at least 11% to 14% in all three races.

At the same time, total voter turnout appears to be about 11% lower in Alaska this year than in 2004 -- despite over 20,000 new registrations, heavy turnout in the primaries, record early voting, long lines at the polls on Election Day, and the state's own governor being on the ballot, all of which had led to an expectation of record participation.

Maddow turned for explanations to Nate Silver of, who pointed out that tens of thousands of absentee ballots, early votes, and provisional votes are yet to be counted. However, these appear to be spread fairly evenly across the state, not concentrated in Democratic areas, so even a final tally is unlikely to jibe with the polls. "Clearly it didn't go how the pollsters expected," Silver commented.

The Washington Post reports that pollsters themselves are "not happy" about the results. "Anchorage pollster and Republican political consultant David Dittman, a Stevens supporter, predicted a 'solid Begich win' The national polling firm, Rasmussen Reports, accurately predicted every Senate race in the country within the margin of error in their most recent polls -- except Alaska. Alaska pollsters Ivan Moore, Craciun Research Group and Hays Research Group all also had Stevens and Young trailing in the lead-up to the election."

"Is there any place ... where you are worried about the potential for shenanigans?" Maddow asked Silver as the segment concluded. "Should the parties be lawyering up?"

Silver answered that he isn't concerned about Minnesota, but Alaska and Georgia "are two states where you definitely have a high threat level for voter fraud."

This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast November 6, 2008.

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