Anchorage votes down on-site pot consumption, taxes alcohol and keeps most of the Assembly

Workers at Anchorage’s Election Center (Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage residents voted down the prospect of on-site cannabis consumption but decided they will tax alcohol more to pay for social services. Most of the Assembly members running for re-election will retain their seats, and the body is adding a twelfth member. A large school bond related to earthquake damage passed. 

The results from 58,983 votes counted as of Thursday afternoon are not final, with many ballots still outstanding, according to Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones. Those results could shift in at least one close race, though most currently have decisive margins. 

This year, six of the Assembly’s 11 seats were on the ballot, representing districts in every part of the city. Several conservative-leaning candidates ran to unseat moderate and progressive incumbents. Most all of them lost. Members Austin Quinn-Davidson, Pete Petersen, Suzanne LaFrance, and Felix Rivera all appear on course to retain their seats, as well as Christopher Constant, who ran unopposed. The seat in Eagle River, which was an open race, went to Jamie Allard, a staunch conservative. As of Thursday afternoon, the race for the midtown district was separated a little more than a hundred votes, which could mean incumbent Rivera is replaced by challenger Christine Hill.

Concerns over coronavirus meant that there was no central election location to mark results. Instead, they came out online overnight at once.

“I’m at home, just in my house with my family,” Suzanne LaFrance said. It was a marked difference from when she won her race three years ago. 

LaFrance anticipates that even with a similar composition, the Assembly will be forced to shift its focus to priorities to COVID-19 response for the municipality.

The largest bond proposition, at nearly $83 million for capital improvements to several Anchorage schools, including repairs and seismic improvements related to the 2018 earthquake, passed. All other bonds passed, as well, with the exception of one dealing with facilities in the Girdwood Valley Service Area. 

A proposed five percent tax on alcoholic beverages to pay for expanded substance abuse treatment, policing, and domestic violence prevention, among other programming, is on track to pass. The tax proposal was a refined version of a similar measure residents voted down last year. 

However, a measure that would have approved a highly regulated allowance for on-site cannabis consumption at retail businesses in Anchorage failed by a large margin. 

“That surprised me,” Assembly Member Felix Rivera said. “Especially because there was no real money on messaging on either side. It was maybe $12,000 spent in total on that one.”

The Assembly will expand by one seat. For decades, the downtown district has had just one member, something critics have said amounts to inadequate representation. After the next round of state and federal redistricting, the boundaries of the downtown district will expand slightly, and a twelfth member added to the body.

Due to coronavirus concerns, the city clerk’s office closed all but one of its in-person voting stations. The only option for residents wanting to drop off ballots by hand is at City Hall.

Participation appears to have been on the lower end of what’s normal in Anchorage’s municipal elections. As of Thursday, turnout was at 25.39 percent, although that number will rise as more ballots are tallied in the next few days.

Note: this story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the latest results.