The filing period for the year’s upcoming October municipal election came to a close Monday night. All seats open for election were filed to be filled by their current holders and had no opposing candidates. (Clarise Larson/ Juneau Empire)

Running on (almost) empty: Candidates and officials react to uncontested local election

“I can’t remember this ever happening in the near past”

It might be boring to watch a boxing match when there’s only one person in the ring, but that’s what it’s looking like for the City and Borough of Juneau’s upcoming October municipal election.

The 10-day filing period for the upcoming fall municipal election to fill three Assembly seats and two spots on the Juneau School District Board of Education closed on Monday with only incumbents in the running. The absence of new faces and competition has left officials wondering what’s led to this election’s seemingly mellow cycle of candidates.

[No new faces or competition for this upcoming municipal elections]

Michelle Bonnet Hale, a current Assembly member serving her second term, said she was surprised and also worried by the lack of newcomers. Hale said public participation is necessary for a local government to thrive and she hopes this is a sign of satisfaction in the current chair holders, rather than a lack of involvement.

“It’s not typical to have no opponents,” Hale said. “It’s worrisome to not have people engaged in what they want to encourage, we want people, to know that they can make an impact.”

She said competition is healthy and shows that people in the community want to get engaged to make a difference toward issues that affect them, but at the same time, she said there could be other factors like “COVID exhaustion” that might have led to fewer people feeling the urge to run.

“I encourage people to run, but this is an enormous amount of work and a huge work burden,” she said. “But we want people to still feel like they can get involved.”

Though surprised by this year’s sparse crop of candidates Hale said there are still a few silver linings to come out of it. She said it might point to community satisfaction in the work the current Assembly members have done, and gives the current board a chance to continue the group’s momentum into the next term.

“We work well together and we’re proven to work well together,” she said. “With the same people, we can roll up our sleeves, and get stuff done.”

[Candidates file for this fall’s local election]

When Hale first considered running for the Assembly back in 2018, she said she went to the Juneau League of Women Voters’ annual “How to Run for Local Office ” free public workshop in collaboration with the CBJ Clerk’s Office, CBJ Public Libraries and Juneau School District. She said it was extremely informative and led her to feel confident in her decision to run for the local position after not having a background in local government before running. She said at 2018 workshop,there were around 20 people who also joined the event that provided panels of presentations that included forms, references, and how to guides for running for local positions.

But this year’s workshop held last month had a much smaller crowd of participants.

The event drew about 10 people, said Beth McEwen, CBJ municipal clerk. McEwen said in the eight year’s the clerk’s office has participated in the workshop, this year “was less than we have at any of the previous ones,” but said that might be because of how nice outside it was. She said she’s not necessarily surprised by this year’s filing results, and said “you never know” about what each election might look like.

Judy Andree, a state board member and past president of the League of Women Voters of Alaska, said she doesn’t expect this to be a trend that will continue into future elections but does note that “I can’t remember this ever happening in the near past.”

Andree, who is also a Juneau resident, said she thinks that the lack of new faces could possibly be because people in Juneau’s community are “fairly content” with the current Assembly’s attention to the larger issues in the area. She said she thinks the current Assembly’s broad spectrum of members and ability to work well with one another also attributes to the “calmness” in the community which might have allowed people to be focused on other issues that are outside of the local government.

“There has been so much pulling your attention away from local things like the huge issues going on at the federal and state levels, and that might have an effect,” she said.

There remains the possibility for people to run for office via a write-in candidacy but would need to file at least seven days prior to the election day and would need to submit paperwork as well to be eligible. From there, voters would have to legibly write the candidate’s name on the ballot for the vote to count said McEwen. There has been no official write-in candidates as of yet.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson. 

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