Hali Denton has been regularly volunteering in Juneau elections for 10 years, and she’s seen slow election cycles.
“I’ve seen days here, not this election but in my time of working in early voting that there’s been maybe eight people in a day,” Denton said. “Eight people in a day is brutal.”
Fortunately for Denton, this fall has been a fairly busy one for early voting. As she sat behind her desk at City Hall on Friday morning, Denton estimated that she’s seen between 35 and 40 people per day coming in to vote early.
Early voting opened up Sept. 18, allowing Juneau residents such as Ellen Cook to make their voice heard without having to stand in lines on Election Day, which is Tuesday. Cook, who was at City Hall on Friday morning to cast her ballot, said this is the first time she’s voted early. She just wasn’t sure if she’d have time Tuesday to get to her polling place.
Cook said she votes every year, and always encourages her family members in town to follow her lead.
“It’s my silent way of making a decision,” Cook said. “I think it’s an important thing, it’s a way for me to participate when I can’t get actively involved on a day-to-day basis in politics.”
Last year showed a major boost in voter involvement, with 33.5 percent of Juneau’s registered voters casting a ballot. That was a 10 percent increase from the previous year and a major improvement from the paltry 19.1 percent turnout in 2013. It was the best turnout since 2010.
Municipal Clerk Laurie Sica said she compared early voting numbers and said that as of a week before the election, the totals were almost identical to the 2016 early voting turnout. Denton theorized that the momentum from last year’s election is carrying over into this one.
From 2015 to 2016, there was a 450-person boost in registered voters, and that number (now at 25,094) has remained virtually the same since last year. Sica isn’t sure exactly what caused the boost in involvement, but the mixture of having a national election in 2016 and having proposals on the ballot could have helped.
Sica said at the beginning of campaign season and reiterated Friday that ballot proposals tend to inspire involvement.
“Usually people will have an opinion on an issue more so than on a person running for office,” Sica said. “They might not know them very well and not know what they do, but they might have a definite opinion on sales tax or something.”
This fall, Juneau voters have two proposals to consider. The first would extend the 1 percent sales tax increase, which would also commit most of the money to maintenance of wastewater facilities, schools and pools. The second would make a change to the city’s charter that allows the city more flexibility in awarding contracts, so that a low bid is no longer the sole decider in which company gets the job on city projects.
Even if the ballot proposals are what bring voters to the polls Tuesday, Denton said that voting in the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly race and the Board of Education race is more important than some might realize.
“These are the people who affect your day-to-day quality of life,” Denton said. “This is the election that really matters. These are the people that decide what your property tax is and what your schools are gonna be like and everything.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.