Early election results show Anchorage Midtown voters rejecting recall of Assembly member Zaletel

a person speaks into a microphone
Meg Zaletel in June 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Update, 4:30 p.m. Wednesday:

Updated preliminary election results posted Wednesday show most voters still rejecting the recall of Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel.

The city has now counted about 10,600 votes, with 60% of people opposing the recall and 40% supporting it.

The city clerk’s office is posting results on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays until the election is certified next month. 

Original story:

Early results posted Tuesday show Anchorage Midtown voters strongly rejecting an initiative to recall Assembly member Meg Zaletel. There are still more votes to be counted.

By Tuesday night, the city had tallied 9,320 votes, with about 61 percent of voters rejecting the recall of Zaletel and about 39 percent supporting it.

It’s unclear how many uncounted ballots remain. Anchorage Deputy Clerk Erika McConnell did not have an estimate Tuesday night. More than 36,000 ballots were mailed to Midtown Anchorage residents in Zaletel’s district for the special election. Ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by Tuesday.

McConnell said the city anticipates updating unofficial results on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until the results are certified next month.

RELATED: Thousands of dollars pour into recall, though it’s unlikely to change the balance on the Anchorage Assembly

Reached by phone on Wednesday, Zaletel said she was happy with the results, and credited her election team for the win. In the months leading up to the recall, she’d described the effort as a waste of time and tax dollars.  

“I hope that putting this distraction behind us can really just provide the opportunity for the community to focus on what’s important, which is how do we want Anchorage to run, and how do we want to solve Anchorage’s problems,” Zaletel said.

The official reason behind the attempt to remove Zaletel from office stems from her participation in a public meeting last summer. Petitioners say the meeting had more people present than allowed under coronavirus-related gathering restrictions in place at the time. Zaletel was one of nine Assembly members to attend the meeting in-person. 

While that violation is the official grounds listed for Zaletel’s recall, recall supporters and opponents say the election is more about various COVID-19 health mandates passed by Zaletel and the majority of Assembly members. Zaletel agreed that the recall was more political than procedural.

“I think they are being used as protectional vehicles to bring forward policy disagreements,” Zaletel said. “And while policy disagreements are OK to be settled at the ballot box, that’s during regular election cycles, not recalls.”

Recall supporters have decried Zaletel and the majority of the Assembly for what they’ve called wasteful use of federal COVID-19 relief funds. 

RELATED: Anchorage Assembly approves emergency mask mandate

But supporters of Zaletel say health mandates related to masking and social distancing are critical in the face of a surge of COVID-19. Alaska currently has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases in the country.  

The effort to oust Zaletel is one of three attempts to recall an Anchorage Assembly member in the past year. Fellow Midtown Assembly member Felix Rivera survived a recall election in April. Earlier this month, a petition was filed to recall Eagle River Assembly member Jamie Allard.

Zaletel couldn’t speak to the recall petition for Allard, but said that the recalls for herself and Rivera were more politically motivated

If Zaletel is recalled, the Assembly would appoint a resident from a list of applicants in her district to replace her. 

McConnell, the Anchorage deputy clerk, said she’s unaware of any Anchorage Assembly member ever being recalled successfully.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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