A voter casts his ballot in Juneau's municipal election at the Douglas Library on Sept. 23. All ballots must be returned to the city by 8 p.m. on election day, Oct. 5. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Local election moves to high gear as ballots roll in

Voters are casting ballots

Voting for the City and Borough of Juneau’s 2021 municipal election is now underway.

Staff from City Clerk Beth McEwen’s office mailed ballots to all registered voters on Sept, 14 and voters have until 8 p.m. on Oct. 5 to make their voices heard.

On Thursday afternoon, McEwen told the Empire that completed ballots are starting to roll in.

Voters will elect a mayor, two assembly members, three School Board members and will decide on a single ballot proposition to extend the city’s 3% temporary sales tax for street maintenance and general city and borough operations.

“We are getting quite a few ballots in,” McEwen said. “It’s looking good.”

McEwen said that a verification process starts as soon as ballots arrive.

Verification includes checking the signature and verification data provided on each ballot to ensure that no fraud occurs. In addition, a database ensures that each voter only votes once. Laws prohibit any voter from voting more than once in each election.

Once verified, ballots are bundled together and shipped to Anchorage, where city staff will count them next month using the counting equipment there. McEwen said that strict protocols are in place to ensure a chain of custody for the ballots.

Juneau’s ballots will be counted in Anchorage for the second time in two years because Juneau does not have the equipment needed to count votes locally. However, a new ballot counting center is in the works and should be ready for next year’s election.

[City approves new ballot-counting center]

During the city’s first vote-by-mail election last October, voters sent back nearly 12,000 ballots, representing a turnout of about 43% —the largest voter turn out since 2000.

This photo shows a ballot for the City and Borough of Juneau’s 2021 municipal election. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

This photo shows a ballot for the City and Borough of Juneau’s 2021 municipal election. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Getting results

McEwen said that she aims to have preliminary results available and posted online the evening of Friday, Oct. 8.

“If all the stars are in our favor, that’s our plan,” she said. “If not, we will have them posted on Oct. 11.”

The canvass review board will convene on Oct. 19 to certify the election results. However, McEwen noted that city rules allow the meeting to be delayed by a day-at-a-time if needed.

Two write-in candidates vying for a seat on the school board could make the count more complex and add a wildcard to the counting operations.

Write-in candidates Will Muldoon and Ryan Scholl will not appear on the ballot but have been certified by the city clerk and are eligible to win if they receive enough votes. Muldoon filed for the election this week after some ballots had already been returned.

[Second write-in candidate joins school board race]

McEwen said that it’s unusual to have write-in candidates. She explained that city code dictates when write-in votes get counted.

Because there are three open seats, the top two vote-getters won’t be affected by write-in candidates. However, depending on how many votes are cast for the third-place finisher, the write-in rules could come into play.

She said she’s researching the process for counting write-in ballots using the machinery in place in Anchorage.

How to vote

At the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce Alaska Business Roundtable meeting Thursday, CBJ City Manager Rorie Watt said the vote-by-mail system is convenient and secure.

“We’ve tried to make directions as clear as possible to make it as easy as possible for everyone to vote,” Watt said.

Watt explained that voters have three options for returning their ballots—including returning it to one of the two secure ballot drop boxes available, bringing it to a vote center, or mailing it through the U.S. Postal Service.

Watt said that city staff members collect ballots from the drop boxes, located outside the Douglas Library and the Statter Harbor boat launch parking lot, each day.

“The ballots go into big, sturdy boxes,” Watt said, adding that the system is very secure.

Voters in need of assistance can visit a Juneau Vote Center at City Hall or the Mendenhall Valley Public Library to request a new ballot, get a replacement, register to vote, or update the registration information for future elections.

The City Hall Vote Center is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays through election day. Library hours vary and are available online.

On election day, voters can visit either vote center to cast a ballot between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Change of heart?

Voters who cast a ballot aren’t able to make changes once the ballots have been submitted.

However, McEwen said those who complete a ballot but have not cast it can get a new one at a Juneau Vote Center.

[Record review shows legal woes for school board hopefuls]

What’s on the ballot

While voting, residents will have a chance to weigh in on the 3% temporary sales tax for street maintenance and general city and borough operations. The 3% sales tax, which is a portion of the 5% the city collects on most transactions, must be reapproved by voters every five years. It was last extended in Oct. 2016 and went into effect on July 1, 2017. If voters don’t approve an extension of the tax, it will expire on June 30, 2022.

Incumbent Mayor Beth Weldon is poised to serve another term as mayor, as she faces no competition on election day. Weldon would fill a second, three-year term in the mayor’s office.

Competitive races are on tap for both open CBJ Assembly seats and three open seats on the school board. Candidate profiles are available on the Juneau Empire website.

In District 2, Assembly Member Michelle Bonnet Hale is running to serve a second, three-year term on the CBJ Assembly. Newcomer Kelly Fishler hopes to unseat her.

In Assembly District 1, a three-person race is set with Paul Kelly, Barbara Blake and Troy Wuyts-Smith vying for the seat vacated by longtime Assembly Member Loren Jones, who is barred from running again due to term limits.

[School board candidate forum responses]

Six official candidates have filed for three open seats on the school board, including current board president Elizabeth(Ebett) Siddon and newcomers Aaron Spratt, Thomas Buzard, Amber Frommherz, Wiljordon V. Sangster and Ibn Bailey.

Write-in candidates Will Muldoon and Ryan Scholl will not appear on the ballot but have been certified by the city clerk.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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