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Voter turnout low, but not unusual

Posted: October 5, 2011 - 11:08pm
Areawide Assembly candidate Loren Jones talks with a supporter in the Assembly Chambers Tuesday evening as election results are tallied. Jones was one of a few candidates that expressed disappointment in the percentage of voters turning out to vote.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Areawide Assembly candidate Loren Jones talks with a supporter in the Assembly Chambers Tuesday evening as election results are tallied. Jones was one of a few candidates that expressed disappointment in the percentage of voters turning out to vote.

Tuesday’s election only brought out 25 percent of the City and Borough of Juneau’s registered voters. When about 1,400 absentee ballots are added to those cast in person, the turnout is on par with most of the regular city elections in the past 10 years.

With the projected absentee and questioned ballots, the turnout is about 31 percent.

A look back through 2000 shows three similar low-points in voter turnout — 2001 with 28.2 percent, 2008 with 26.3 percent and 2009 with 28.9 percent.

Since 2000, Juneau voters have only reached 40 percent turnout twice, in 2000 and 2007. In 2000, voters weighed in on six ballot measures from temporary sales taxes to the Juneau Access Road. Those hot topics garnered the interest of 49.1 percent of voters. In 2007, 40.4 percent of registered voters turned out, with ballot measures including removal of fluoride from city water and bonds for schools and the new aquatic center.

This year, the precinct showing the least interest in turning in ballots was Switzer Creek, with 11.7 percent of its registered voters casting votes (Absentee ballots won’t be counted into precinct totals.). Mendenhall Valley 1 was slightly behind with 19.6 percent voting. The precinct with the highest voter turnout was Lynn Canal with 35.3 percent; North Douglas followed with 33.4 percent and Juneau No. 2 wasclose behind with 33.2 percent.

In the 2010 elections Switzer Creek showed the lowest turnout, but Juneau No. 1 had the second lowest. Highest voter turnout in 2010 was also in Lynn Canal, with Juneau No. 2 and North Douglas in second and third respectively.

Excluding this year’s results, the past 11 years has seen a 35.9 percent average voter turnout.

The Canvas Review Board will meet on Friday to count the absentee and questioned ballots. It is expected to handle write-ins on Monday and certify the results on Tuesday. The count will be open to the public on Friday, however a time has not yet been set.

Some of the candidates were asked to comment on the voter turnout on Tuesday, and most were disappointed with the low numbers.

“I wish there were more people who were more actively engaged in our schools and local government,” said School Board Member Sally Saddler. “Too often it’s easy for people to complain but they need to be engaged.”

Mayor Bruce Botelho said it could reflect people are complacent with the city government, but he expects there are deeper reasons why.

School board write-in candidate Sean O’Brien said he expected more people to turn out because of the number of ballot measures and people running for office.

“There is not only disappointment but surprise,” he said. “There was a lot on the ballot.”

Loren Jones, a candidate for the Areawide Assembly seat, said the number was incredibly low and he wished there was a way to drive it up.

“There wasn’t really any driving issue to bring people out to the polls like they have in the past,” he said. “That’s still no excuse for only 25 percent of the voters in Juneau to turn out.”

Carlton Smith, another candidate for the Areawide seat, said it was “reflective of long-term divisiveness” in Juneau. He said the Assembly will be newly formed now and hopes divisiveness will give way to the future of the city.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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