I admit the headline to this story may be overly sentimental, but I don’t care. This morning, amid a snowstorm that dashed the hopes of many Anchorageites that spring had finally sprung, a little ray of sunshine poked through in my inbox. The Anchorage city clerk’s office announced that Election Central lives on, at least for local elections.
The nonpartisan gathering of candidates, campaign staff and volunteers, political gadflies, and the media in downtown Anchorage on election nights is a wonderful civic tradition. People from all sides of the political spectrum come, watch massive screens with the latest election results, engage in the ritual of winning campaigns (and sometimes losing ones too) marching in with dozens of supporters in tow, perhaps consume an adult beverage (or many), and heck, sometimes people of different political stripes even interact. The room is filled for hours with tense emotions, the eager anticipation eventually giving way to simultaneous outbursts of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Yes, Election Central is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It’s an understated celebration of democracy and the humanity of politics.
Unfortunately, last fall the new Director of the Alaska Division of Elections (DOE), Josie Bahnke, decided to kill that joy, announcing that budget cuts meant her division no longer had the resources to book the room and hook up a projector. Seriously, if you’ve ever been to Election Central, you know that’s all the infrastructure ever put in place. There are no bands, no entertainment, no MC, and no agenda. There’s nothing to plan or organize and the cost is de minimus. It’s just a room with projectors, areas set aside for media, and a bar. Citizens and the elections themselves provide the emotional energy that drives the event.
It’s understandable that Bahnke canceled the state election’s version of the event. She isn’t from Anchorage and had little experience with either campaigns or elections (if you find that fact troubling for someone tapped to run statewide elections, you aren’t alone), so she doesn’t know what Election Central is.
But Anchorage Clerk Barbara Jones and her deputy Amanda Moser, they get it. Even though they have far fewer staff and a substantially smaller budget than the DOE, they somehow found a way to make Election Central happen.
Here is the release Moser sent out this morning:
The Municipal Clerk’s Office announces that the Municipality of Anchorage intends to host Election Central for the Regular Municipal Election on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Election Central will be at the Dena’ina Civic & Convention Center, Tubughnenq’ Rooms #4-5, Second Floor, 600 West 7th Avenue, Anchorage. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and will remain open until one hour after the election results are final, or no later than 11:00 p.m.
For AV needs, contact IMIG Audio Video at (907) 274-2161 or [email protected].
For the first time in several years, parking will be available in the City Hall parking lot after the Election. Election workers will be returning election supplies to the new Election Center at 619 E. Ship Creek Drive.
In addition to parking being available at EasyPark rates in the City Hall parking lot, parking will also be available at these locations: Anchorage Parking Authority’s (APA) 6th and H Street Garage, 7th and G Street Garage, on the Park Strip on 10th Avenue – B to M Streets. Check out www.easyparkalaska.com for additional parking lots, garages, and on-street parking locations.
Wait, not only do we get Election Central back, but now we can even park in King Berkowitz’s court (City Hall parking lot)? How awesome is that? I’m about to start pre-gaming right friggin’ now!
OK, so I may be a little more emotionally invested in Election Central than you are. But there’s a serious point to be made here. In an era when voter participation has dropped to troubling levels, and politics, politicians, campaigns, and elections are more likely to draw rolling eyes of disgust and indifference than they are chest-swelling pride at American democracy in action, isn’t any event filled with proudly engaged, civic-minded folks from across the political spectrum a necessary step in the direction of rebuilding popular engagement in our system of governance?
Couldn’t even the most arch-conservative be convinced that this is a government expense that isn’t just good, or necessary, but is truly mission critical?