Local elections like the one coming up on Oct. 3 are notorious for drawing low voter turnout. But observers say this year’s city and borough elections may be different, because the two marijuana-related propositions on the ballots are likely to draw more voters to the polls in what observers say will likely be a close election.
University of Alaska Fairbanks political science professor Amy Lovecraft believes the two ballot propositions that will ask voters to outlaw marijuana businesses in Fairbanks and the borough will fail. She says that’s because it’s not easy to reverse a law that’s been on the books for more than a year now.
“Once you have a law in place, even if it’s a poor law, it almost always is more difficult to get rid of it than it was to get it instated the first place,” Lovecraft says.
Jerry McBeath, a retired UAF political science professor, he sees it differently. McBeath predicts the groups pushing city Proposition A and borough Prop 1 will prevail. Because, he says, as of Friday they’d been more vocal and had conducted more events to promote their cause.
“Most of the events seem to be in the direction of asking people to vote yes,” he said, “and I haven’t seen any notices about people on the other side – those recommending a vote no.”
But McBeath says if this election goes the way of most, that’s likely to change this week and next.
“What tends to happen in Fairbanks is during the last week of the election, we’re snowed under an (by) avalanche of last-minute publicity,” he said.
McBeath says voters who support banning marijuana-related businesses are probably mainly social conservatives who generally are highly motivated and have an impressive history of organizing and getting their voters to the polls on election day.
“Given what is likely to be a low-turnout election, the most strongly organized and mobilized groups have an advantage,” he said.
Lovecraft concedes that’s the conventional wisdom, but she says that’s mainly true for partisan elections with candidates or causes that are closely associated with either Republicans or Democrats.
“That’s what makes this particular election difficult,” she said, “because we’re not talking about a party or party competition. We’re talking about an issue.”
Lovecraft believes many conservatives, even those who are inclined ban commercial pot, will vote no once they realize that if the propositions pass, they will shut down more than 30 businesses, eliminating dozens of jobs and cutting off a source of tax revenues for Fairbanks and the borough.
“The marijuana economy is up and running in Fairbanks – and in the borough as a whole, but particularly in Fairbanks,” she said.
Both McBeath and Lovecraft agree that turnout will be even more crucial than usual on Oct. 3, because local elections draw fewer voters than the larger statewide events. Fairbanks City Clerk Danyielle Snider says the 2016 election – which included a race for mayor, three council members and four ballot questions – drew only 16.5 percent of the electorate, down from just under 18 percent that turned out for the 2015 election.
“I think that we’ll have a better turnout this year but, y’know, it’s pretty sad,” Snider said.
Borough voters have done a bit better recently, with nearly 18 percent turning out last year and just over 25 percent in 2015. But borough Clerk Nanci Ashford-Bingham also thinks this year’s turnout will top the usual sparse showing at the polls, given the number of people who’ve been coming into the clerk’s office asking for in-person absentee ballots and other information.
“We’ve had such a steady stream right now that it’s an indication that it’ll be probably an above-average turnout for us,” Ashford-Bingham said.
Editor's note: Voters who live in the borough outside of the cities of Fairbanks and North Pole will get different ballots than those who live in those two incorporated cities. Fairbanks voters' ballots will include uncontested candidates for two City Council seats. North Pole voters' ballots will only list two candidates for a City Council seat. For more information, go the borough clerk's Oct. 3, 2017 Regular Municipal Election page.