The majority of votes cast in Anchorage’s municipal election have been tallied. And while some races remain too close to call, a clear picture emerged Tuesday night on most of the candidates and measures.
Incumbent mayor Ethan Berkowitz [BERK-uh-wits] has a sizable lead over his main challenger. A major utility sale drew huge support. And a controversial measure on bathrooms looks likely to be rejected, although by a narrow margin.
As the city implements its first vote-by-mail system, only about two-thirds of the total votes cast were tabulated Tuesday night, with more returns expected Wednesday evening.
In the mayoral race, Berkowitz leads by about 22 percentage points – a wide margin. Still, he wasn’t yet ready to celebrate.
“We’re waiting to see,” Berkowitz said Tuesday night in the Dena’ina Center. “There’s still a lot of votes out there to be counted. We feel good about where we are, but I want all the votes to be counted.”
Berkowitz says his probable second term will be a continuation of policies he’s pursued the last three years. His administration has enjoyed an amiable relationship with the city’s 11-member assembly, which has leaned gradually more to the left from when Berkowitz first came into office.
At her headquarters on election night, challenger Rebecca Logan was also not ready to declare the race over.
“Without seeing precinct data and knowing what’s still out there to come in, it’s hard to really have an opinion,” Logan said after the early results had come in.
Logan ran a campaign focused on crime and the economy, taking a more conservative approach than her opponent.
While the clerk’s office estimates there are more than 26,000 ballots left to be counted, by Wednesday even conservative allies of Logan said it would be unlikely for those outstanding votes to change the preliminary results.
Residents overwhelmingly approved the sale of city run electric utility Municipal Light and Power to Chugach Electric Association by a margin of two to one, green-lighting officials to begin negotiating final terms of the deal. Voters also opted for all seven bonds on the ballot from public school maintenance projects to park and road improvements.
In school board races, Deena Mitchell and Elisa Snelling have commanding leads, with the contest between Alisha Hilde and Tasha Hotch still too close to call, separated by just a few hundred votes.
Mitchell, a first-time candidate who has been an advocate for public education with the group Great Alaska Schools, plans to use her position to ensure programming is protected in Anchorage schools, even as funds diminish.
“We also need to make sure that our students who are under-achieving are lifted,” Mitchell said Tuesday night. “With the flat funding that we’re seeing, it’s going to be challenging to make sure every dollar works as hard as it can.”
Proposition 1, an effort led by a conservative faith-based advocacy group to regulate bathrooms by a person’s biological sex at birth rather than self-identified gender appears to be failing. However, with a difference of 3,884 votes, or around eight percent of ballots cast, the early results are too close to be definitive.
According to campaign disclosures filed with the state, the campaign against Prop 1 attracted $826,364 worth of contributions, much of it from advocacy groups outside of Alaska who say the measure would discriminate against transgender residents. Locally, a coalition of groups called Fair Anchorage spent more than a year organizing to defeat the proposition.
“I was surprised by the results, and continue to be surprised by how Anchorage voters have stepped up and denied discrimination from coming back into Anchorage, and hope that the results will hold,” said Kati Ward, campaign manager for Fair Anchorage.
Voter turn-out is on track to break a new record, with the Clerk’s office forecasting more than 76,000 ballots ultimately returned, or around 35 percent of the city’s electorate. Increasing participation was one of the major reasons the city switched to a mail-based system.
Correction: an earlier version of this story misstated Berkowitz’s advantage over Logan was 12 percentage points.