School board member Emil Mackey places a ballot in the drop box at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library vote center on  Oct. 5. Three open seats on the Juneau School District Board of Education attracted eight candidates, including two write-in candidates. Based on the most recent election returns, write-in candidate Will Muldoon earned enough votes to win a seat on the board. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Professor says local results aren’t indicative of a national trend

Dynamics of the race led to write-in candidate win

When city officials certify the results of the 2021 municipal election this week, they will almost certainly do something unusual — certify a write-in candidate as a winner.

Based on Friday’s unofficial results, Will Muldoon, a write-in candidate for one of the open seats on the school board, is poised to capture the third open seat —a feat that so rare that city officials could not immediately remember the last time it happened.

According to results released by City Clerk Beth McEwen, Muldoon has garnered 2,909 votes from all the ballots that have been approved for counting.

[Inching closer to final results]

According to Glenn Wright, associate professor of political science at the University of Alaska Southeast, the occurrence is an “idiosyncratic case” and not representative of a larger trend toward write-in candidacies.

“I do wonder if it’s more possible in Alaska due to Alaska’s political culture and non-partisan elections,” Wright said. “People in Alaska are registered and the state has an independent-minded political culture.”

The Will of the people

Wright attributes Muldoon’s success to the dynamics of the race.

He said a crowded field of candidates, three open seats, and salient national issues, specifically those around COVID-19 were all crucial factors.

“You had a number of candidates running,” Wright said. “Some of them were relatively weak.”

The three open seats on the Juneau School District Board of Education attracted a field of eight candidates with clear dividing lines around the topic of at-school COVID-19 mitigation measures. Of the candidates, six were certified and appeared on the ballot, and two used a certified write-in approach.

Wright said that Muldoon is “well known, and broadly perceived as hard-working and competent.”

Those factors proved to be an apparently winning combination for Muldoon.

Muldoon’s current vote total is almost 1,000 votes ahead of his closest competitor, Aaron Spratt, who had 1,996 votes as of Friday evening.

[Vote count continues]

Wright said that several candidates who ran primarily in opposition to school-based mitigation measures did not appeal to the “typical center-left Juneau voter.”

Along with fellow candidate Thomas Buzard, Spratt was sharply critical of the school district’s COVID-19 mitigation policies.

Muldoon will join the two other top-vote getters, current board president Elizabeth “Ebett” Siddon and first-time candidate Amber Frommherz in taking a place on the school board.

Both Siddon and Frommherz were vocal supporters of the district’s COVID-19 policies.

[Second write-in candidate joins school board race]

Fellow candidate Ibn Bailey also supported current mitigation measures. However, according to court records reviewed by the Empire, in 2019, he received three protective orders, one of which involved a principal at a local elementary school. He was banned from going near the school where the principal worked or having contact with the principal.

In early vote counts, Bailey occupied the third-place spot. However, as write-in votes were counted, Muldoon pulled ahead.

Candidate Wiljordan V. Sangster and write-in candidate Kyle Scholl both waged low-key campaigns. They said that they were motivated to run by the school board’s decision to stand by COVID-19 mitigation policy preventing the boy’s basketball team from traveling to the state tournament last spring as reasons for running.

While it’s unusual for write-in candidates to win elections, Wright said that this cycle’s dynamics helped Muldoon cement his win.

“People looked at how things had been going in Juneau and were aware of the news in other parts of the state and thought we are doing OK here,” Wright said.

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

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