1958: Alaska's Statehood Elections
by Virginia Breeze

"Forty years ago during 1958's August and November election campaigns there seemed, in retrospect, little need to urge Alaskans to vote. With statehood then a seeming sure thing, Alaskans were focused on their opportunity at last to elect their own governor, a full delegation to Congress, and an enlarged legislature designed to provide a greater depth of representation statewide.

"We voted in those elections as never before in reaffirmation of a free people's democratic right of self government."


--Burke Riley, August 1998, Juneau

Burke Riley has had long Alaska service in territorial, state and federal governments. He served variously as special assistant to Governor Ernest Gruening, secretary of Alaska (today's lieutenant governor), delegate to Alaska's Constitutional Convention, majority leader of the Territorial House of Representatives, executive assistant to Governor William A. Egan, and regional coordinator of the U.S. Department of Interior.

Ì Ì Ì Ì

Forty years ago, on August 26, Alaskans went to the polls for a special election that would determine whether the Territory of Alaska was to become the State of Alaska. Three propositions appeared on the special ballot. All had to be approved in order for statehood to be approved. They were:

Proposition No. 1

"Shall Alaska immediately be admitted into the Union as a State?"

Proposition No. 2

"The boundaries of the State of Alaska shall be as prescribed in the Act of Congress approved July 7, 1958 and all claims of this State to any areas of land or sea outside the boundaries so prescribed are hereby irrevocably relinquished to the United States."

Proposition No. 3

"All provisions of the Act of Congress approved July 7, 1958 reserving rights or powers to the United States, as well as those prescribing the terms or conditions of the grants of lands or other property therein made to the State of Alaska, are consented to fully by said State and its people. "

Statehood Approved

Alaskans approved statehood by a vote of six to one, affirming all three propositions. Approximately 46,000 voters went to the polls. In then recent territorial elections, voter turnout had been less than 30,000. Many polling places ran out of ballots on August 26 and had to use sample ballots, according to an Associated Press report.

As a result of that election, Alaska became the first state to be admitted to the union in 47 years. Arizona and New Mexico had become states in 1912.

The Primary Election, August 26, 1958

On August 26, 1958, Alaskans also held a primary election to nominate candidates for two seats to the United States Senate and one seat to the House of Representatives, and to nominate candidates for governor, secretary of state (now lieutenant governor), and 60 members of the first state legislature. Legislative membership had been established in Article II of the state constitution ratified in 1956.

There were 297 polling places in Alaska in 1958. (There are 453 today.) The proposed new state was divided into 24 election districts. (There are 40 districts today.) The primary was "wide open," as it is in 1998, meaning that voters could cross party lines to vote for whomever they wished.

Nominated to run for U.S. senator were E. L. "Bob" Bartlett (D), and R. E. Robertson (R). Bartlett had served as the territory's elected non-voting delegate to Congress for 14 years. Robertson was a Juneau attorney.

Also nominated to run for U.S. senator were Ernest Gruening (D), and Mike Stepovich (R). Gruening had served as territorial governor for 13 years, from 1939 to 1952. Stepovich was the territory's last governor, and left that office to run for the Senate.

Congress set the length of initial terms for the new state's first senators, each term for each seat thereafter to be for the conventional six years.

Nominated to run for the one congressional seat were Ralph J. Rivers (D), a Fairbanks attorney, and Henry A. Benson (R), territorial commissioner of labor.

William A. Egan was the Democratic nominee for governor. Egan had served in the territorial legislature and also had served as president of the 1956 Constitutional Convention. John Butrovich, a Fairbanks businessman and territorial legislator, was Egan's Republican opponent.

Hugh J. Wade, territorial treasurer, became Egan's running mate for secretary of state, and Republican K. F. Dewey, a former territorial tax commissioner, was nominated to run for secretary of state with Butrovich.

Official Returns of the August 26, 1958 Primary Election

STATE OF ALASKA
PREPARED BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE

 

South-Eastern

South-Central

Central

North-Western

Total

For Governor

 

 

 

 

 

Butrovich, John, Jr. (R)

2,427

3,682

3,015

569

9,693

Egan, William A. (D)

4,659

12,454

4,811

811

22,735

Rivers, Victor C. (D)

1,787

4,580

1,906

572

8,845

Williams, J. Gerald (Jerry) (D)

1,707

2,275

1,359

315

5,656

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Secretary of State

 

 

 

 

 

Dewey, K. F. (R)

1,655

3,388

1,587

560

7,190

Greuel, Richard J. (Dick) (D)

2,897

10,281

4,646

521

18,345

Wade, Hugh J. (D)

5,745

8,526

4,466

1,171

19,908

 

 

 

 

 

 

For U.S. Senator For Term A

 

 

 

 

 

Bartlett, E.L. (D)

8,395

18,962

9,403

1,882

38,642

Robertson, R. E. (R)

2,102

3,776

1,781

390

8,049

 

 

 

 

 

 

For U.S. Senator For Term B

 

 

 

 

 

Gruening, Ernest (D)

4,307

10,060

4,602

1,366

20,335

Stepovich, Mike (R)

6,254

12,682

6,235

885

26,056

 

 

 

 

 

 

For U.S. Representative

 

 

 

 

 

Benson, Henry A. (R)

3,121

4,365

2,096

693

10,275

Plummer, Raymond E. (D)

2,760

10,936

2,807

657

17,160

Rivers, Ralph J. (D)

4,264

6,940

5,687

899

17,790

The General Election, November 25, 1958

Immediately following certification of the August primary election, campaigning by successful candidates began for the state's first general election. Although general elections, nationwide, are held the first Tuesday in November, the 1958 general election in Alaska was scheduled for November 25.

The most hotly contested race in the election was between two former territorial governors, Gruening and Stepovich, both running for the U.S. Senate. In the uncontested primary election race, Stepovich had "beaten" Gruening by approximately 6,000 votes. In the general election, Gruening beat Stepovich by slightly more than 3,000 votes.

Republican secretary of state candidate Karl Dewey withdrew his nomination before the general election, and the party replaced him with Brad Phillips of Anchorage.

The day of the election the Anchorage Times wrote in its lead story, "The fruits of 42 years of effort will be the result of today's election - the official proclamation that Alaska is a State of the Union." More than 50,000 Alaskan voters went to the polls to cast ballots on November 25.

Official Returns of the November 25, 1958 General Election

STATE OF ALASKA
PREPARED BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE

 

South-Eastern

South-Central

Central

North-Western

Total

For Governor/Lt. Governor

 

 

 

 

 

Butrovich, John, Jr. & Phillips, Brad (R)

5,162

8,178

4,810

1,149

19,299

Dollinter, Mike & Horton, Donald W. (I)

104

141

155

80

480

Egan, William A. & Wade, Hugh J. (D)

6,745

14,210

6,588

1,646

29,189

 

 

 

 

 

 

For U.S. Senator For Term A

 

 

 

 

 

Bartlett, E.L. (D)

9,791

19,091

9,716

2,341

40,939

Capper, Keith (I)

122

296

143

38

599

Robertson, R. E. (R)

2,172

3,113

1,493

521

7,299

 

 

 

 

 

 

For U.S. Senator For Term B

 

 

 

 

 

Gruening, Ernest (D)

5,743

12,496

6,014

1,792

26,045

Stepovich, Mike (R)

6,545

10,196

5,593

1,130

23,464

 

 

 

 

 

 

For U.S. Representative

 

 

 

 

 

Benson, Henry A. (R)

5,263

9,719

4,654

1,063

20,699

Rivers, Ralph J. (D)

6,780

12,670

6,806

1,692

27,948

(Total votes cast in this first general election: 50,343)

Thus, Bob Bartlett, Ernest Gruening and Ralph Rivers went to Washington to represent Alaska as voting members in Congress. Bartlett was to draw the two-year "A" term, and Gruening, the four-year "B" term. They stood for re-election again in 1960 and 1962, respectively, when each was elected to the six-year senatorial term prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.

After the November 25th election was certified, Bill Egan and Hugh Wade, working with members of the newly-elected first state legislature, immediately began the challenging task of organizing the 49th state's new government.

Also, following certification, President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 3, 1959, consistent with the Admission Act, proclaimed Alaska a State of the Union.

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