Voter turnout drops after strong showing in 2016

Mike Jones exits a voting booth in full rain gear after walking to the Mendenhall Valley Public Library to vote in the Municipal election on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

After seeing a spike in voter turnout a year ago, every voting precinct experienced a downturn in ballots counted Tuesday.


The 2016 election brought out 33.5 percent of registered voters, the highest total since 2010. This year, the number of registered voters remained virtually unchanged but voter turnout dropped to an initial count of 21.3 percent (5,339 of 25,095 registered voters). That total will rise as absentee and questioned ballots — mostly comprised of voters casting ballots in a precinct other than their own — are counted.

Those will be counted by about noon Friday, Municipal Clerk Laurie Sica said. Sica said there are about 1,600 questioned ballots, but election worker will go through them in the coming days to determine if they were cast by registered voters. If all those ballots are valid, the final count of voter turnout could rise to above 27 percent.

Maria Gladziszewski, who was re-elected to her Areawide Assembly seat, was perturbed as she looked at the 21.3 percent figure on the screen in City Hall on Tuesday night.

“It’s disappointing,” Gladziszewski said. “I don’t know what to say about that. You try and get people to vote, you stand on the street corner in the rain. It’s just, I guess, not on people’s radar. People are busy with their lives and getting their kids to school, and I guess you can miss it.”

Precinct chairpeople and election workers were disappointed with low turnout, and shared three main theories as to why. One factor could be the weather, some said, as a heavy rain fell across Juneau all day Tuesday.

Most of all, many election officials had heard a great deal of buzz around early voting. The city promoted it heavily this year, and anecdotally many election workers heard of friends voting early.

“A lot more people know about it now,” Juneau Airport Area Precinct Chairperson Steve Lewis said, “so they take advantage of that and don’t have to plan their day around (voting). I think that plays a factor.”

So far, early voting numbers are nearly identical to those in 2016. Not including absentee by mail and fax, 1,085 people voted early this year, compared to 1,067 in 2016. In 2016, absentee by mail and fax accounted for just fewer than 200 ballots.

Lemon Creek Precinct Chairperson Renée Hughes said that early voting probably played a factor, but the lack of attention-grabbing issues on the ballot also might be keeping people away. Proposition 1 extended the 1 percent sales tax increase for another five years, sending the revenue mostly to maintenance projects. Proposition 2 amends the city charter to allow the city to award bids for projects on factors other than only the lowest bidder.

“I think a lot of it is, there’s nothing that is outstandingly controversial. … The propositions have gotten some interest,” Hughes said, “but it’s not like it’s overwhelming, something that 90 percent of the community feels like they have to come out and voice their opinion.”

For example, 8,283 people voted on a proposition taxing sales of marijuana and marijuana products in the 2016 election, while just 5,286 people voted on Proposition 1 this year.

In general, voter turnout has been declining for Juneau. Including the initial 21.3 percent figure for 2017, the average voter turnout is 28.31 percent for the past 10 elections. The 10 elections prior to that, Juneau averaged 38.04 percent turnout per election.

By the numbers

21.3* — Initial voter turnout, which could rise by as much as 6 percent

33.5 — Voter turnout in 2016

28.31 — Average voter turnout the past 10 elections

38.04 — Average voter turnout in elections from 1998-2007

* Based on initial count, not including mailed absentee ballots or questioned ballots

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or


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