What to watch for with Anchorage’s first vote-by-mail election

(Anchorage Municipal Clerk's Office)

Anchorage’s voting will come to a close tonight at 8 p.m., marking the end of Alaska’s first-ever vote-by-mail election (though you can still get your ballot postmarked by 11 p.m.). It’s a major first test of the vote-by-mail system in Alaska that could lay the groundwork for other municipalities and the state to follow suit. But beyond the wonkiness of new voting systems, Anchorage’s election could give us hints about how statewide and legislative elections are shaping up.

Here’s a breakdown of some quick takeaways of things to watch for. We’ll also be updating this article with results as they become available through the night, which we expect about an hour after polls close.

The city has put together a handy map for the drop-off locations and voting centers that will be open today.

Berkowitz v. Logan

Incumbent Mayor Ethan Berkowitz comes into election day with a sizable lead in fundraising and organization over the GOP-backed Rebecca Logan, who also faced up to her past legal troubles at a few points during the election. We’ve heard establishment Republicans shied away from Logan during the final stretch and we reported that she saw no significant uptick in fundraising in the final stretch of the election while Berkowitz raked in the cash.

Still, we’ll see whether Logan’s message that focused almost entirely on crime–despite criticism that it was light on specifics–and taxes can overcome the fundraising deficit. The race also comes as a potential test case for legislative candidates weighing a tough-on-crime platform for the fall. We saw legislators get their feet wet during last year’s special session, but little to no talk on it (beyond Rep. Lora Reinbold) this regular session.

The field for mayor is packed with seven other candidates so the potential for a runoff election on May 1 isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Turnout

All signs already point to voter turnout in Anchorage smashing the turnout last mayor’s race where 57,536 ballots were cast in the general election (a 27.93 percent turnout). As of 1:20 p.m. today, 63,000 ballots had arrived at the municipal election center. That number is only going to grow even more over the next few days as ballots continue to arrive in the mail.

Particularly good turnout will likely make the case for other municipalities, and perhaps even the state, to consider switching to a vote-by-mail system. That’s despite initial hiccups with mail theft and other detractors of the vote-by-mail system.

Culture wars

Just about every established candidate, business group and community organization has come out against Proposition 1, the initiative that would introduce bathroom bill-type laws to Anchorage that govern who can use public bathrooms and locker rooms based on a person’s sex at birth instead of their gender identity.

The anti-transgender proposition aims to capitalize on the fears that transgender people are somehow using their gender identity as a cover to sneak into bathrooms and locker rooms to prey on women and children (which, in case you need reminding, is still definitely against the law).

This one should be soundly defeated, but an unexpected win or a close defeat could give ammunition for future campaigns, including efforts to enact socially conservative legislation in the Legislature.

Power sale

Berkowitz administration is seeking to sell the city-owned Municipal Light and Power to Chugach Electric Association. The sale has had its vocal detractors in recent weeks and questions raised over how the deal came together. Much of the worry stems from how quickly the plan is coming together. A yes vote on this deal will allow the administration to move forward with negotiations that would ultimately need to be approved by the Assembly while a no vote will halt the plans.

Taxes

The Berkowitz administration is walking a tricky line on taxes this year. It’s all in the name of lowering property taxes by raising or implementing taxes. The administration already implemented a tax on gasoline earlier this year to relieve the burden on property tax payers, and Proposition 11 would further shift the tax burden away from property owners who live in their homes to homes worth more than $5 million and commercial property, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Election night fare

From an election watcher’s perspective, it’ll be interesting to see how the vote-by-mail system will play out. A majority of the ballots are already returned, but voters can still mail their ballots today meaning potentially close races won’t be decided for days.

We’ll be providing regular updates throughout the night in this article, but will mostly be watching the Alaska Landmine’s live stream from election central.

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