Something You Didn't Know About the Alaskan Recount

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(See update at bottom.) Unless you're in Alaska, of course, or are an Alaskan-affairs savant. According to the Anchorage Daily News yesterday, the Tea Party/Republican candidate Joe Miller is basing a lot of his hopes on uncounted absentee ballots from active-duty military voters, in his struggle to catch up with non-Tea Party/Republican incumbent Lisa Murkowski. Why would that matter? A reader from the Northwest explains:

>>Alaska pays big bucks to each family member (not household, FAMILY MEMBER) each year in the Permanent Fund Dividend check program. This got as high as $2,200 per year recently; currently it is about half that.

Alaska also has very large military bases, such as Fort Richardson, which provide a lot of the troops for Iraq and Afghanistan.  Of course, the troops don't really "live" in Alaska, they come from all over the US.  But there is where they get stationed.

Turns out that they and their family members can get the big dividend fund checks anyway!  But that's not the kicker.  The kicker is that they and their family members remain eligible to continue receiving such checks long after they have left Alaska, so long as they remain on active duty, return to Alaska for 72 hours per year (unless duty prevents this, such as being stationed elsewhere -- duh!), AND DO NOT REGISTER TO VOTE IN ANY OTHER STATE THAN ALASKA.

In short, Alaska pays (a lot) to military personnel on active duty to keep their voting residences in Alaska, even if they live in other states.  No one seems to pay any attention to this. I'm convinced it makes a difference in the complexion and outcome of Alaska elections, and I suspect there are political scientists in Alaska who have studied it but had their studies ignored.<<
Details of how this all works here.
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UPDATE: A reader who once worked in the Alaska ombudsman's office writes in to explain some of the rationale for the law, and to clarify a detail on military eligibility:
>>Under the laws establishing the Permanent Fund, only individuals who are legal residents of the State of Alaska are eligible to receive the dividend.... The indicators you see on the web site to which you link are among those which the State uses not only in this situation but in other situations to determine legal residence.

If you file a tax return, register a car, vote, get a fishing or hunting license in some other state, Alaska will determine that you are no longer a state resident--and no longer eligible to receive the dividend. Those are all verifiable, objective indicators that the State has determined reflect an individual's state of legal residence.

The difference with the military is the amount of time one has to be physically in the state to receive the dividend. It is less for military personnel. One could argue the public policy aspects of that, but the State has made its determination.

BTW, the requirement is for a physical presence of at least 72 consecutive hours every two years in the state. There is also this requirement: "Generally, a person must spend at least 30 cumulative days in Alaska during the past five years."<<
Thanks for the clarification. The larger point from the original reader remains: Alaska makes it easy and attractive for members of the military to remain Alaska residents, and recipients of permanent-fund dividends, with very little time on scene. Three consecutive days in-state every other year, and 30 total days per five years.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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