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Voter registration mostly steady so far

Posted: September 19, 2012 - 11:06pm

Weigh in on the questions posed to voters — juneauempire.com/elections.

The number of registered voters in the City and Borough of Juneau is up slightly from where it was last September, but is still slightly lower than it was in 2010.

There are 24,565 voters in Juneau, according to the latest registration numbers posted by the Alaska Division of Elections early this month.

That differs very little from the 24,319 voters registered in Juneau at the same time last year, or from the 24,682 registered in September 2010.

Elections Director Gail Fenumiai said changes in voter registration can be explained by a number of reasons, including population migration.

“It could just be attrition,” Fenumiai said. “People leave, people move, and they cancel their registration here.”

The supervisor of elections in Region I, which includes Southeast Alaska, said contrasting voter registration numbers from 2012, a presidential election year, with numbers from 2011, in which there was no statewide or federal election in Alaska, is not an ideal measure of comparison.

“I would compare like election years, so it would be 2008 would be the last presidential year, and 2010, of course, was a gubernatorial election,” said Alyce Houston. “So those numbers may be more similar. I mean, that’s how we kind of gauge what type of an election we prepare for.”

In September 2008, 24,911 people were registered to vote in Juneau, according to the Division of Elections data.

Voter registration numbers by election precinct and Alaska House of Representatives district are updated on the Division of Elections’ website toward the start of every month, usually on the third or fourth calendar day.

Juneau has, in recent elections, outperformed the statewide average in terms of voter turnout.

Voter turnout in the former House District 3 was 58.1 percent in 2010, while in House District 4, it was 56.3 percent.

The statewide average for turnout that year, when Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was reelected as a write-in candidate over Republican nominee Joe Miller and Democratic nominee and former Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, was 52.3 percent.

In 2008, when then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., defeated Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to become president, Alaskan voters turned out at a higher rate of 66 percent.

But in District 3, turnout was 68.8 percent, and in District 4, it was 69.3 percent.

“Juneau does a pretty good job of showing up to vote compared to the statewide total,” said Fenumiai, though she added that it is “still not where we’d like to see it.”

Turnout in Juneau’s municipal elections, which take place in October instead of November, when general elections are held, has historically been much lower than for general elections.

In October 2011, turnout was 30.8 percent. It was higher in 2010, when 38.5 percent of voters turned out, but lower in 2009, when the last mayoral election was held. Turnout of just 28.8 percent was recorded as Mayor Bruce Botelho romped to victory over Mark Farmer that year.

It was lower still in 2008, the last presidential election year. Voter turnout for that year’s municipal election was 26.3 percent.

The last year in which Juneau voters voted for both a mayor and a president was 2000. Turnout that year was a much higher 49.1 percent in the municipal election, although it was slightly lower in the general election than it was in 2008.

City Clerk Laurie Sica said she does not know why fewer people tend to vote in municipal elections than in general elections, but she said she suspects that better-funded, more visible state and national campaigns tend to attract more attention.

“There’s so much hype about the state election, especially the presidential election, and sometimes people forget that there’s a city election going on, too,” Sica said. “We don’t have that kind of advertising dollars spent on local elections to remind people to get out and vote.”

Fenumiai said she wants to see higher turnout in Alaska, but she admitted she is “not sure what can be done.”

“It’s just got to really, truly mean something to the voter,” Fenumiai said. “It’s a very individual choice.”

Due to decennial redistricting, the boundaries and numbering of Juneau’s two legislative districts changed this year.

Downtown-based District 3 is now District 32 and has expanded to take in the outlying communities of Gustavus, Petersburg and Skagway, while the Mendenhall Valley-based District 4 has been reconfigured as District 31. Elections starting this year will be held under the new lines, though both Reps. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, and Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, are running unopposed.

Juneau’s election precincts have also changed due to redistricting, making a direct comparison of voter registration by neighborhood difficult.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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