The (unofficial) results are in for Alaska’s first ever vote-by-mail elections, and the main story is one with national implications for transgender rights.
Proposition 1 made national news as the notorious “Bathroom Bill” which would have rescinded the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that currently allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, as opposed to the sex on their birth certificate. It was narrowly defeated by a vote of 53% against to 47% for, a surprisingly thin margin considering the “No On Prop 1” side had a 13-1 fundraising advantage over the proponents of the bill, namely the Christian policy group Alaska Family Action.
The Fair Anchorage organization called the results a “groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind victory. . . not only for transgender people, but for their allies and everyone who is proud to call Anchorage a welcoming place.”
Alaska Family Action did not comment on the results.
State legislatures in several other states have considered similar “bathroom bills” this year, and LGBTQ rights proponents are encouraged by the example set by Alaska, though the slim margin of victory indicates that Americans are still divided on this issue.
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz defeated Republican challenger Rebecca Logan by about 18% of the vote, a relatively easy victory for the incumbent mayor facing his second term in office.
Voters also broadly approved the $1 billion sale of the city-owned electric utility ML&P to Chugach Electric, a merger which will settle the sizable debt of ML&P and theoretically make Anchorage more energy efficient in the process.
All the bond measures passed with little drama.
And the new vote-by-mail system? Election officials are calling it a “spectacular” success. Anchorage set a new record for voter turnout in a municipal election, the unofficial count of 80,000 votes beating the previous record set in 2012. Lowered costs and increased voter turnout were the main goals of voting by mail, and officials hope that Anchorage has laid a blueprint for the rest of the state to follow.
As of 2018, Alaska is switching to a vote-by-mail system, following in the footsteps of states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon. People in those states say that the “vote from home” system has increased voter turnout, a conclusion supported by a Washington Post study. It’s not entirely shocking that giving people the option to vote from home over the span of a couple weeks is a positive step towards improving the functionality of our beleaguered democratic process.
This post is specifically meant for Anchoragites who have questions about their ballot or how the new system works.
Quick note: if you have not received a ballot in the mail, call 907-243-VOTE (8683) or visit one of the Accessible Vote Centers around the city. Click here for a municipality FAQ which should answer many of your questions.
Now let’s get to the ballot itself.
The first section on the ballot gives you the candidates for mayor of Anchorage. There are nine candidates, though it is effectively a two-person race between Democratic incumbent Ethan Berkowitz and Republican Rebecca Logan. Mayor Berkowitz was elected in 2015 and has focused a lot on crime and police presence in a city which has become increasingly dangerous in recent years. Berkowitz’ main challenger is Republican-backed Rebecca Logan, who works as the general manager of The Alaska Support Industry Alliance – an oil, gas and mining association. You can find background information on these and the other candidates here, as well as a light and inconsequential Anchorage Daily News Q&A which asks each candidate what they do for fun in Anchorage (Dustin Darden’s is a doozy).
The next three sections focus on the candidates for school board seats E-G, and this category is the biggest mystery for most voters. There is very little information online about the options, though the League of Women Voters of Anchorage has a ballot review with contact information for most of the candidates. One piece of advice: if you don’t know anything about the options, it is better to leave it blank than to pick a random choice. As of this writing, I have reached out to multiple organizations looking for official endorsements, and will update if I find out more. The candidates do at least have their own websites, and for now that is the best source of information.
There are 12 ballot propositions on the 2018 Anchorage ballot, and Prop. 1 is by far the most controversial. The so-called “Bathroom Bill” would undo Alaska’s current nondiscrimination law by restricting access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on a person’s sex at birth, regardless of their gender identity. For the sake of clarity: voting “Yes” would allow businesses to restrict bathroom access based on sex, while a “No” means keeping the current nondiscrimination protections in place. The proposition is backed largely by Alaska Family Action, a Christian public policy organization which says the bill is a necessary step in protecting the privacy and safety of Alaskan citizens who shouldn’t need to share an intimate setting with someone of the opposite sex.
Opponents to Prop. 1 (Fair Anchorage, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, NAACP) say that the bill is a step backwards into discrimination, an unenforceable bill that would hurt the rights and privacy of transgender people. The Chamber of Commerce worries that the bill would also be bad for business, citing the similar North Carolina bill that is estimated by the Associated Press to cost that state $3.76 billion over the next dozen or so years.
This proposition has thrust Alaska’s voice into the national conversation about equality and LGBTQ rights. The country is listening: let’s think carefully about what we say.
Props. 2-8 are far less sticky. They are all bond measures that would go towards improving city services and infrastructure, from school facilities to roads to police boilers. They are basically seeking funding for basic and necessary municipal upkeep, at a negligible yearly cost to taxpayers. By all means, read the fine print. But for most voters, these should be an easy “Yes” and forget.
Prop. 9 is a direct response to Slush Cup 2017, when the popular event turned Girdwood into a “parking lot.” This measure would allow Anchorage Police Department to delegate parking enforcement to the Whittier Police Department, giving Girdwood residents some relief from the abandoned and improperly parked vehicles that flood their town every year.
A “Yes” to Prop. 10 would allow the Anchorage municipality to sell debt-ridden electric utility company Municipal Light & Power to Chugach Electric. Proponents of this measure say that it would increase efficiency of operations and spread out the effect of ML&P’s debt, leading to lower rates for consumers. They also say it would allow Chugach Electric to more effectively utilize variable renewable energy from sources like Fire Island, all while promising not to layoff any workers at either of the companies.
If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it might be. An article from Alaska Policy Forum urges caution when it comes to this deal, pointing out that the process and details of the proposed sale have been shrouded in mystery from the beginning, and it appears that the normal competitive bidding process for a sale of this kind was bypassed for a direct “sole source” to Chugach Electric. In other words, it is nearly impossible to know if the municipality (and taxpayers) got the best deal possible.
APF also points out that while the measure promises no increase in “base rates,” this does not mean that your bill won’t necessarily go up from other rate increases. The general lack of transparency and careful wording of the large print has a number of voters concerned about the quality of the deal.
Prop. 11 would save most Anchorage homeowners money on their property taxes each year, though the trade-off would be a tax increase for residents who own commercial or residential property. The proposition would change the state law by raising the property tax exemption from 10% of a property’s value (max. $20,000) up to 20% (max. $50,000).
While this would give some tax relief to homeowners, business owners are not very happy about it, and it is feasible that renters’ rates would go up as a result. Mayor Berkowitz says that Prop. 11 would give tax relief to homeowners and broaden the city’s revenue stream, while critics worry that the “trickle down” effect on business owners and the local economy would cause more economic harm than good, all for a few hundred dollars saved by homeowners come tax day.
This proposition seeks to expand the borders of the Anchorage Fire Service Area to include currently unprotected property in the northeast area of Eagle River (an area including the Eagle River Nature Center). As it stands now, residents without fire services are sent a hefty bill if the AFD responds to their call (not a guarantee), and the size of that bill may go up in the near future. If Prop. 12 passes, the taxable services would begin in 2019. Properties currently within the current fire service would most likely not see their taxes increase in any way, but the newly-covered Eagle River Valley residents would of course see a tax increase in exchange for those city services.