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Sunday, December 4, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Democrat Wins In Alaska Recount -- Republican Won't Pursue `Voter Incentive' Complaints

With a slim 536-vote edge, Democrat Tony Knowles officially becomes Alaska's new governor following a ballot recount completed yesterday. The loser will not pursue his complaint about "voter incentives" that he charged could have helped Knowles.

State elections officials certified Knowles' win yesterday over Republican challenger Jim Campbell after a ballot recount done at Campbell's request. Knowles was declared the winner Thursday in what was a four-party race and was scheduled to be sworn in to replace Gov. Wally Hickel tomorrow, but he had to wait until last night for the official recount results.

In the three-day recount, Campbell picked up only 47 votes. Campbell had said if the recount significantly closed the gap between them, he would have challenged the voter incentives in court. His concern was that Knowles' victory might have been bought with voter incentives ranging from free gas to $1,000 raffle prizes. And he 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 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, Knowles' victory margin is the smallest winning margin in a gubernatorial election, according to Alaska's Division of Elections.

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.

He lost his 1990 race for governor when he and moderate Republican Arliss Sturgulewski split the middle-of-the-road vote, allowing Hickel to win. This time, Campbell ran as a strong conservative, and polls show he split votes with Jack Coghill, the current lieutenant governor who ran on the conservative Alaskan Independence Party ticket.

The voter incentives were born out of poor rural turnout four years ago, said Ewan. Some Alaska bush villages have had historic turnout of 80 percent and more. But he said Hickel's 1990 victory may have been helped by a wave of apathy among Alaska Natives.

The voter incentives included:

-- 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 the incentives had no impact on the race's outcome.

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.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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