FNSB Assembly rejects ordinance to move borough elections to November

Published: Oct. 21, 2023 at 11:57 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - An attempt to change election dates for the Fairbanks North Star Borough ignited debate in the borough assembly meeting on Thursday, October 19, when the body picked up a conversation from the previous week.

“This is about voter turnout,” said assembly member Tammie Wilson.

Each year, local elections fall into three municipalities: the borough, the City of Fairbanks and the City of North Pole.

Traditionally, these three elections are organized and run together by the three governments.

This ordinance if passed, would have moved local borough elections from October to November. In even numbered years, this would put them in line with state and national elections, which traditionally see higher turnout.

According to Wilson, who sponsored the ordinance, it was intended to increase voter turnout in local races. She used the Matanuska-Susitna borough as an example of this trend. “Mat-Su borough, even with Ranked Choice Voting, chose to stand in two lines, 40.58 percent. You can’t debate that number.”

However, critics alleged the ordinance left Fairbanks and North Pole governments, as well as the community, out of the conversation.

Jeff Jacobson, representing North Pole City Council, spoke at the meeting, saying, “I’m open to new ideas, but let’s talk first, and that’s the position we’re coming from as a city; is that you guys are making all the decisions for us, and as a Home Rule city, we object to that.”

Wilson later commented, “I would never have put something in here for the cities and said ‘You have to move to this date.’ That’s not for us to determine. That’s for you to determine.”

Assembly members also questioned the amount of money the ordinance would cost to implement, by requiring the hiring of more election workers for a single day and the purchase of more election equipment.

The language of the ordinance itself argues that synchronizing local with state and national elections would make voting more convenient. However, in response to the proposed ordinance, the city councils of both Fairbanks and North Pole unanimously passed resolutions keeping their elections in October.

Thus, residents of these cities would still continue to see elections in both October and November every other year.

John Ringstad from Fairbanks City Council said at the October 12 meeting, “This isn’t going to work for the City of Fairbanks, and that being the case, it makes it more difficult for the assembly going the direction it’s going, and us being going a different direction because we would prefer to be working together, and we don’t know how to make this work together at this point.”

Assembly member Aaron Lojewski voted against the ordinance. “We have this real partnership in running our elections together, and our two partners unanimously told us ‘Well you can move. You’ve got the right to do it, but we would rather stay together,”' he said.

Barbara Haney, who sits in Borough Assembly Seat I, argued in favor of the election move, saying, “While we love the cities, we’re the borough, and I’m not going to say we don’t care about city council. We care but we’re not players in the game, and we’re just fine with having our borough assembly, quite frankly, with the state legislative races.”

Ultimately, the ordinance failed in a vote of four to four, with Savannah Fletcher absent at the time, meaning that for now, borough elections will remain in October.

In the 2023 municipal elections, the Fairbanks North Star Borough saw just over 20 percent of registered voters head to the polls. In the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole, those numbers stood around 15 percent each.