Lawmaker resurrects special elections bill

Municipalities could opt to delay votes on initiatives, referendums until regular election

Posted: Sunday, January 30, 2005

FAIRBANKS - A Kodiak lawmaker has resurrected an effort to allow municipalities to avoid costly special elections.

Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens introduced the bill prior to the legislative session. The bill would give boroughs and some cities the option of delaying a vote on citizen initiatives or referendums until a regularly scheduled election.

Current law requires a special election be held within 75 days of a petition being certified.

"The intent is simply to allow local municipalities, local communities, to avoid very costly elections for referendums or initiatives," Stevens said.

If Stevens' bill passes, municipalities still could hold special elections on time-sensitive issues.

The measure received its first hearing Wednesday in the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee. Several municipal clerks testified in favor of the bill, agreeing with Stevens that having the option of delaying a vote on an initiative or referendum would be advantageous.

"A special election is costly, time-consuming, and traditionally the turnout is very low," said Mona Lisa Drexler, clerk for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Drexler has estimated in the past that a special election in 2002 on whether to enact a fuel transfer tax cost the borough more than $60,000. Last year's attempt to eliminate the borough's vehicle inspection and maintenance program cost more than $50,000.

Both measures were defeated by a wide margin and drew less than 16 percent of registered voters to the polls.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk Linda Murphy said municipalities do not typically set aside money for special elections.

"These are not budgeted items," she said. "So when we do have a special election, we have to go back and get a supplemental appropriation to hold one."

The committee had been set to pass the bill and forward it to the Finance Committee on Thursday. But Sen. Thomas Wagoner, R-Kenai, voiced the idea of requiring a certain level of voter turnout at special elections in order for the results to be certified.

That system, which is used in Washington state, would encourage special elections to be held closer to a regularly scheduled election, when voter turnout is typically higher, he said.

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