Anchorage municipal election season begins with candidate drawing

Anchorage Municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess draws Scrabble tiles from a jar to determine the order of candidates on the 2021 municipal ballot. Amy Solberg, Erika McConnell and Dan Bradbury record the process. (Kavitha George/Alaska Public Media)

Thursday marked the start of Anchorage’s municipal election season, beginning with a drawing to determine the order of candidates’ names on the ballot. At the Municipality of Anchorage Election Center, a large warehouse north of Downtown where ballots get counted, a few city officials gathered with a jar of Scrabble tiles.

“We will draw all 26 letters,” said Erika McConnell, deputy municipal clerk. The order of letters determines the order in which candidates are listed on the ballot, according to their last name. 

Darrel Hess, the municipal ombudsman, shook the jar and pulled the first tile out.

“E,” he announced.

McConnell explained that if any candidates have last names beginning with the same letter, the clerk will use the second letter of their last names to determine their order on the ballot.

Twenty-six Scrabble tiles sit in a row on a table out of alphabetical order.
Erika McConnell places the last Scrabble tile in the sequence that determines the order of candidates on the 2021 municipal election ballot. (Kavitha George/Alaska Public Media)

This year, residents will choose candidates for mayor, school board and boards of supervisors. The mayoral race is particularly crowded this year, with no incumbent running. Ten candidates have announced their intent to run, and Friday is the first day candidates can officially file for office.

McConnell said that means a run-off election is likely. If no one locks in more than 45 percent of the vote, the two candidates who receive the most votes will be placed on the runoff ballot.

This is the second municipal election since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s was just after the start of the pandemic when the city was still in lockdown. McConnell said many poll workers decided not to volunteer. The city had to scramble to make adjustments to help people vote from home.

“Most people really weren’t interested in voting in person, anyway. We were all hunkering down and we were very scared. And nobody really knew what this was like,” she said.

This year, she said they had a better sense of what to prepare for.

“We know that we need to order masks for our election workers, we know that we need to have gloves, we know that we’ll be borrowing some of the plexiglass shields from the state to put up in the vote centers. So, I would say this year is better than last year, because we have nine months of knowledge.”

There will be three in-person voting locations set up this year with evening and weekend hours, but McConnell expects the majority of residents will be casting their votes by mail. Ballots will be mailed in mid-March for the April 6 election.