Absentee voters show high turnout

Strong showing of early ballots may reflect poll numbers in today's election

Posted: Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Turnout could be relatively brisk in the general city election if the number of absentee votes is any indication.

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While the majority of voters head to the polls today, about 1,548 Juneau residents have cast their ballots already in the election that will decide three Juneau Assembly seats, two School Board seats and five ballot propositions.

Absentee turnout is the highest it has been in the last four years, almost 50 percent higher than last year, according to City Clerk Laurie Sica. The next highest absentee count was in 2005, when voters decided several competitive races and snubbed portions of a hefty sales tax package that included a Mendenhall Valley aquatic center and an airport terminal make-over.

Scaled-back versions of both projects are back on the ballot this year, but most of the heat and campaign spending is being generated over the question of whether to return fluoride to the city's drinking water.

"It's an issue people feel real strongly about one way or the other," Sica said.

Sica added, however, that it's hard to say if the early interest in voting indicates the overall turnout will be strong. Voter turnout has ranged from 28 to 39 percent in the last six general elections.

"I think that people are getting more comfortable with absentee voting and finding it more convenient," Sica said. "We put out a lot of advertisements about the schedule."

In city races, incumbent District 1 Assembly member Jeff Bush, an attorney and former School Board president, is running unopposed for a second three-year term.

Two-term District 2 incumbent Randy Wanamaker, executive director of a company that recruits and trains workers for the Kensington Mine, faces a challenge from family therapist Dixie Hood.

A three-way race for the areawide Assembly seat pits incumbent Johan Dybdahl, former chairman of the Juneau Planning Commission and president of a tourism venture near Hoonah, against his former commission colleague Marshal Kendziorek, an information technician for the Alaska Permanent Fund, and Iskandar Alexandar, a clinician at Juneau Alliance for Mental Health Inc.

Barring a stealth write-in campaign or a flood of votes for Gregory Brown Sr., who dropped out of the race too late to have his name removed from the ballot, the two remaining candidates for School Board, JoAnne Bell-Graves and Destiny Sargent, are each assured one of two open seats on the board.

Bell-Graves runs a small skincare business and Sargent is a clinical psychologist for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.

Proposition 1 would extend the city's temporary 1 percent sales tax for public works projects over the next five years, funneling money into sewer extensions, a public works facility, airport renovations and Don Statter Boat Harbor improvements. Revenue from the tax also would pay off a portion of the local debt that would be generated if Proposition 5 passes.

Proposition 2 would require that fluoride be added to the city's drinking water.

The remaining three propositions would authorize the sale of general obligation bonds for various projects. If all three pass, property taxes on a $250,000 house, for example, could rise by as much as $168 dollars a year for the next 10 years.

Proposition 3 authorizes $3.9 million in bonds for artificial turf to be installed at the Adair-Kennedy baseball field and the Melvin Park softball field. Proposition 4 authorizes $19.8 million in bonds for a swimming pool at Dimond Park. Proposition 5 authorizes $22.4 million in bonds for renovations at Harborview and Glacier Valley elementary schools.

The polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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