Anchorage vote-by-mail election breaks record for voter turnout

Anchorage’s first vote-by-mail municipal election broke a record for voter turnout. In 2012, the city had received 71,099 votes; as of Friday, April 6, it received 77,766.

It’s important to note that the data for this year’s election is from an unofficial report and the official numbers will be confirmed on April 17. Even after polls had closed Tuesday night, elections officials still had thousands of ballots to process through the week and posted summaries by 5 p.m. each day.

Evan Anderson, civic engagement coordinator for the Alaska Center, said that he is hopeful that the turnout shows voter satisfaction.

“I’m hopeful that the high results we’re seeing for turnout are good evidence that voter satisfaction is increasing under this new system,” Anderson said. “I think if we can increase satisfaction over time then that will help us have higher participation rates as well.”

The mayoral candidates and propositions on the ballot might have helped drive the turnout, Anderson added.

“I think it drove a lot of energy and I do think that getting your ballot in the mail and just having to drop it off either in a mailbox or at a dropbox — I do think that is a little bit less of a barrier for folks,” Anderson said.

“We were hoping for an increase in voter turnout but we do recognize that there… are additional driving factors of whether choose to participate… It also depends on the issues on the ballot,” Carolyn Hall, education and outreach coordinator for the Municipal Clerk’s Office, said.

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Photo credit: Mariah DeJesus-Remaklus
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Hall also said that these nuances and differences should be accounted for when comparing this election’s turnout to those in the past, particularly the last mayoral election in 2015.

For the first regular election, 57,536 ballots were received, but none of the candidates had at least 45 percent of the votes. This resulted in a run-off election between Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski that brought in 70,650 ballots.

“It’s not really fair to compare this election underway right now with the mayoral run-off election because there was one issue on the ballot — it was the mayor and there were two candidates,” Hall said. “There was nothing else being voted on.”

The convenience of vote-by-mail may have driven turnout, Barbara Jones, municipal clerk, said.

“I think people like vote-by-mail. We heard from people in the medical community that said it was easier for them to vote because they work long hours… We heard from elderly and disabled people who said it was much easier to vote by mail for them,” Jones said.

On the Municipal Clerk’s Office Facebook page, Alaskan residents were commenting about the process and voter turnout.

Mary Moscrip Hasbrouck wrote: “Happy that numbers are exceeding last mayoral election.”

Suzie Mauro said that she was one of the “cranky” voters at first, hesitant about change, but was “really impressed to see how the process has worked.”

Jones said that the clerk’s office is welcoming suggestions from voters to help improve the vote-by-mail system. They have already reached out to the Anchorage Assembly to look at the issue of undelivered envelopes. About 23,000 ballots could not be delivered to addresses, and 20,000 were returned to the election center. Jones said that the voter registration database is complicated, but that doesn’t mean those voters did not vote since there are also accessible vote centers.

At the Alaska Center, Anderson works to get people involved in elections and promote civic engagement, and he thinks the vote-by-mail process helped extend the conversation about candidates and issues.

“I think that it’s a good thing long-term for us to have more time to talk about these issues. I also think it’s good for individual voters to have more time at home, take time with their ballot, really look into the issues,” Anderson said.

Unofficial ballot summaries can be viewed on the Municipality of Anchorage’s website at muni.org/electionresults. Official results will be certified on April 17.