`Voter Incentives' Raise Questions -- Apparent Loser In Alaska Governor's Race Cries Foul
Alaska election officials recounting ballots in a governor's race that ended with charges that questionable "voter incentives" swung the election to the apparent winner, Democrat Tony Knowles, said yesterday the initial result likely will be unchanged. The initial count left Knowles with a 583-vote edge over Republican Jim Campbell.
Knowles was certified the winner Thursday in what was a four-party race. He was scheduled to be sworn in to replace Gov. Wally Hickel tomorrow, but last night was awaiting the official recount result. He may also face a legal challenge by Campbell.
Campbell says Knowles' apparent victory may have been bought with voter incentives - ranging from free gas to $1,000 raffle prizes. He also is worried about those who couldn't vote, including oil-field workers who found their absentee voting place shut down and prisoners arrested on misdemeanors who did not get their customary voting privilege.
"All we were trying to do was increase the voter turnout," said Roy S. Ewan, president of Ahtna Inc., an Alaska Native corporation in the state's interior. Residents in the area could use their ballot stubs to enter one of 10 drawings for $50 each, Ewan said.
Close elections are not new to Knowles or Alaska. Knowles was re-elected mayor of Anchorage in 1984 by 187 votes. In 1978, Republican Jay Hammond won the Republican gubernatorial nomination over Hickel by 98 votes.
However, if Knowles' initial victory margin - a 0.3 percent lead - would be the smallest winning margin in a gubernatorial election, according to Alaska's Division of Elections.
Campbell stands no chance of overturning the election, says a veteran of the Hickel/Hammond recount battle and other close Alaska elections that ended up in court.
"I think it's sour grapes," said Edgar Paul Boyko, a former Alaska state attorney general. Boyko is a confidante of Jack Coghill, the lieutenant governor who ran for governor against Knowles and Campbell on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket.
"I think Campbell's being pushed partly by his ego and partly by the Hickel palace guard that has latched on to his coattails as a way to stay in power," Boyko said. Hickel endorsed Campbell.
Knowles is a Yale-educated Vietnam veteran who still holds on to traces of his Oklahoma drawl. He worked in Alaska's oil fields and ran Anchorage restaurants before entering politics on the Anchorage Municipal Assembly. He was elected to two terms as mayor. When not running for office, he works as maitre'd at the Downtown Deli, the restaurant he owns.
Campbell is investigating:
-- A program in the North Slope Borough that gave each voter up to 10 gallons of gas. Called the Voter Assistance Program, the gas was supposed to be used to cover costs of driving to the polls.
-- A Fairbanks-area Native organization's $1,000 voter raffle. A postcard mailed by the Tanana Chiefs Conference Inc. said people could enter by submitting their name and address on their ballot stubs. The other side of the card reminded people that the largest Native organization had endorsed Knowles and said, "Your one vote does make a difference. Using it is important to all Native people."
-- Ahnta's series of $50 voter raffles.
-- Raffles for free groceries in the village of Eagle, near Fairbanks.
-- A voter raffle for a free airline ticket organized by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.
"There are stories that there were people going from polling station to polling station doing questioned ballots and entering the raffles more than once," Campbell spokesman Mike Heatwole said.
Lawyers for the Native organizations said their voter incentives were approved by state and federal election officials.
Knowles spokesman Bob King said he is confident that his candidate will prevail in the recount and that there is no substance to Campbell's complaints. "I don't think there's anything to it, and Tony is getting ready for the swearing-in," King said.
Both candidates have heavy Seattle connections. Both served on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, which controls the Alaska fishing industry.
Campbell, an Anchorage businessman, held three Seattle fund-raisers that brought in more than $20,000 from Seattle-based companies.
Knowles also held fund-raisers here and was the choice of Seattle's political elite. His first Seattle fund-raiser was organized by Dan Dixon, an attorney at a prominent law firm and Alaska's former international trade director.
Dixon introduced Knowles to Bob Gogerty and Sue Tupper, political and business consultants who ran Gov. Mike Lowry's 1992 campaign here. Gogerty and Tupper also count Boeing and other major businesses as clients.
Tupper said she and Gogerty were first hired to review Knowles' losing 1990 campaign. Knowles then asked them to sign on as general consultants for this year's campaign.
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