Costly special elections in Alaska cities could be postponed until a regular election is held under a bill that passed the state Senate Wednesday.
Senate Bill 14 by Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, aims to prevent special elections like the one held in Fairbanks this year. It cost the Fairbanks North-Star Borough about $60,000.
State law now requires most cities to hold a special election within 75 days of the petition's certification. Stevens' bill would allow municipalities to postpone special elections until a regularly scheduled election is held.
"They are very costly and voter turnout is often very low in a special election," said Fairbanks North-Star Borough Clerk Mona Lisa Drexler, who has advocated for the bill.
She said only about 14 percent of registered voters turned out for a special election on fuel taxes in June 2002. And only about 16 percent turned out for one last January.
Juneau is one of a handful of cities and boroughs in the state that operate under home rule, meaning that regulations that determine when to hold special elections are set by the city charter.
"A lot of communities in the state that aren't home-rule municipalities would be pushing for that more than we are," Juneau City Clerk Laurie Sica said.
Drexler said about 140 municipalities have no choice under the current system. Juneau is one of about a dozen chartered municipalities in the state that wouldn't be affected by the change, she said.
The proposal passed the Senate 16-0 Wednesday and now heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at email@example.com.