With thousands of ballots counted, only a few dozen votes stand between victory and defeat for two hotly contested propositions.
The City and Borough of Juneau released preliminary unofficial results Tuesday night showing who will serve on the Juneau Assembly and the school board along with two of four propositions trending toward approval. However, Proposition 1 — a vote to OK $35 million for a new City Hall — and Proposition 4 — a vote on whether to repeal a requirement that real estate sales prices be reported to the city — each faced a nearly 50-50 split of votes so far counted.
The results of the election will likely shift as the unofficial results only reflect the eligible ballots received through Oct. 1, according to the city. That means the hundreds — if not thousands— of ballots cast on Election Day were not part of the released results. Another set of preliminary results will be posted on Friday, Oct. 7 and Oct. 14, and final results are expected to be certified on Oct. 19 by the Canvass Review Board.
According to City Clerk Beth McEwen, all the eligible votes that were cast on Election Day via the Voter centers, ballot drop boxes and any mail-in ballots received before Friday will be reflected in the Friday, Oct. 7 preliminary results.
As for Tuesday’s results, 4,834 ballots were represented, which equals a voter turnout of just over 17%. In comparison, last year’s final election results pulled in a voter turnout of just under 31%.
McEwen and election officials are currently doing intake on the amount of ballots the city has received and could not provide a number as of Wednesday but said she expects more ballots to come in and the number will continue to change as more eligible votes come in and people respond to any cure letters.
“After Friday we probably will not have as many will come in the mail after that, but we will continue to receive ballots in the mail that were postmarked and those will be added to the next preliminary results on Friday the 14th,” she said.
McEwen said if voters do receive a cure letter they still have time to respond and she encourages residents to address them as soon as possible to make sure their ballot can be counted. She said the election work has been “pretty smooth” going quickly and said she wanted to extend a thank you to the “outstanding” election workers for their team effort to make the election run well for the voters over the past two weeks.
As for the first round of results, she reiterated that the results are preliminary and are subject to change until certified on Oct. 19.
Going down the line, the vote for Proposition 1, which asked voters whether the city should issue $35 million in bond debt to build a new City Hall, was split almost exactly evenly. As of Tuesday evening, 2,376 yes votes had been counted compared to 2,415 no votes.
Assembly member Wade Bryson, a major advocate for the proposition said he is “heartbroken” after seeing the first round of results.
“I really thought I had a chance, I’m really disappointed to say the least,” he said. “Not spending $35 million on a new City Hall, we are literally committing the same amount of money on whatever variation we end up doing instead.”
He said he is aware there are a lot of votes that still need to be counted and the election is yet to be certified, but he is disappointed at how tight the results look currently.
“In Juneau, the results just stay the same, the votes just get higher,” he said. “I just am really heartbroken right now.”
In the lead-up to the election, the Empire received multiple opinion pieces both in favor of and in opposition to the proposition. Juneau resident Judy Crondahl sent in an opinion piece that stated she would vote against the proposition writing the city should dedicate resources to housing.
“I have been debating whether to vote for a new City Hall and have decided to vote against it for only one reason — I believe our city administration puts a higher priority on offices for city employees than they do on housing for residents,” Crondahl wrote.
Others who opposed the plan cited high construction costs, inflation, ongoing supply-chain challenges and a desire for decreased spending as among their reasons for voting against it.
Proposition 2, which asked voters whether the city should issue $6.6 million in bond debt to make improvements to the track and field at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, build a new public use cabin and maintain local trails was trending toward approval by a roughly 2-1 margin thanks to 3,222 votes for the prop and 1,583 votes against.
Lexie Razor, head coach of the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé softball team and spokeswoman for Juneau Families for Youth Recreation, and Mark Pusich, board president of Trail Mix Inc, co-wrote an opinion piece sent to the Empire leading up to the election that urged voters to OK the proposition for its benefit to the community as a whole.
“We believe recreation, sports and healthy outdoor activities are fundamental building blocks of a strong community,” they wrote. “A yes vote supports more healthy outdoor activities for all of us, especially kids and families. It is an investment in our quality of life and our future. It is a vote to strengthen our community.
There was no written opposition to the proposition sent to the Empire ahead of the election.
Proposition 3, which asked whether the city should extend a temporary 1% sales tax, is similarly on track to receive the OK from voters via 3,394 votes in favor and 1,417 votes against.
CBJ Finance Director Jeff Rogers previously told the Empire that he estimates over the five-year period the 1% sales tax extension will rake in between $60-65 million or around $12 million per year.
Win Gruening, a Juneau resident wrote in an opinion piece sent to the Empire that he would be voting no to the proposition and said some of the expenditures stray from the traditional use for the tax which he said were infrastructure improvements, deferred maintenance and new capital projects.
“The inclusion of operating-type expenditures such as $5 million for childcare is problematic,” he wrote. “There are worthwhile projects supported by this tax, but the Assembly’s use of this revenue stream to prop up operating costs while borrowing money for projects that should be included is a troubling trend.”
Proposition 4, which asked voters whether the city should repeal an ordinance requiring the disclosure of the sales price of real property, also appears heading for an extremely close vote. Tuesday night’s results showed 2,404 votes for repeal and 2,377 against.
Jay Nelson, the chair of No on 4, an advocacy group that urged voters to vote no on the proposition, said he’s not surprised by how tight the preliminary results are, but said he thinks the no vote is going to come out on top once all votes are accounted for.
Nelson said he thinks most residents would have voted no because of skepticism about the biggest proponents for the proposition being mostly people in the real estate industry.
“I think transparency in real estate pricing will help individuals who are buying and selling homes,” he said. “It might not be helpful for the real estate industry since they’re the only ones currently that have that information, but I do think it will be helpful for individuals who are buying and selling homes and property.”
Tonja Moser, a Realtor with Latitude 58 real estate group, current board president of the Southeast Alaska Board of Realtors and co-chair of Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy, said the advocacy group’s stance remains that the decision should have always been up to voters to determine.
“Our stance has always been that this should have been voted on and the fact that it is such a close contest at the very beginning confirms that fact,” she said. “This should have been vetted and voted on by the voters.”
Meanwhile, with no competition on the ballot or certified write-in campaigns, incumbents seeking reelection to the Juneau School District Board of Education and City and Borough of Juneau are cruising toward victory.
On the Assembly side, uncontested candidates include Assembly members Carole Triem, Greg Smith and Wade Bryson. On the school board side, that means new terms for Emil Mackey and Deedie Sorensen.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson. Ben Hohenstatt contributed reporting to this article.