State law AS 29.20.380 provides that the municipal clerk shall “administer all municipal elections.” The clerk acts as the supervisor of elections and organizes and runs the election. Municipal elections typically take place once a year on the first Tuesday in October, although a municipality may have a different day established by ordinance.
The Alaska constitution and state statutes allow local governments a great deal of flexibility in how elections are conducted. State law does, however, require that a governing body prescribe rules for conducting an election (AS 29.26.010). To conduct a successful election, the clerk should be aware of specific duties regarding the election as prescribed by your local ordinances, Alaska Statutes Title 29 (Municipal Government) and Title 15 (Election Code).
For information on what to do during the election and what happens after the election or for special elections topics, see the other LOGON pages Conducting an Election, Certifying Election Results, or the Special Election Topic you are interested in, such as Local Option, Initiative, Referendum or Recall.
Municipal clerks have a lot to do to ensure a well-run election and preparing months ahead of time will save major headaches. An election calendar is a very useful tool as election preparations occur. The sample election calendar can, and should, be modified according to local municipal code. The tasks identified on the calendar are more detailed than this website provides and you are encouraged to download the Excel Sample Election Calendar and the Plain English Guide to Elections, found in the Additional Resources section below, for more specific information. It is recommended to begin preparations 90 days before an election, for an October election that would mean starting the process in early July. While that may seem too early, new clerks and election workers have come to appreciate the extra time.
The clerk is responsible for: obtaining the master voter registration lists from the Division of Elections; reviewing candidate eligibility; preparing and printing the election ballots, absentee voter documents, and personal representative documents; preparing and posting the election notices; administering absentee voting; appointing and training election judges; and preparing the polling place.
Your municipality should have an elections ordinance that establishes the basic guidelines for holding local elections. The elections ordinance usually establishes: candidates qualifications; voter qualifications; duties of the clerk, election workers, and canvass board; nomination procedures for candidates; requirements for notice of elections, election equipment, and ballots; election procedures; absentee voting procedures; procedures for compiling election results and certifying elections; procedures for contesting elections; and any other rules and procedures regarding local elections. A Sample Election Code is available to download for use to compare and contrast to your current code.
Any change that affects or has the potential to affect voting rights must be pre-cleared with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Some examples of changes that need approval include: special election dates, changes in the regular election date, changes in polling times or places, changes in election procedures such as a run-off election or majority vote, changes in length of terms, changes in ballot counting procedures. DOJ generally requires 60 days to review and approve changes, so be sure to allow enough time for review by submitting any preclearance request well before the scheduled event. Sample Pre-clearance letters are available for download.
When a person submits a nominating petition or a declaration of candidacy, the clerk reviews the document for accuracy and completeness. Under AS 39.50.020, a candidate for municipal office must file a financial disclosure statement when they file for office, unless the municipality has exempted itself from the financial disclosure requirement. Contact the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) at 1-800-478-4176 if you are not sure if this is required. The municipal clerk keeps the original disclosure statement, which must be available for public inspection upon request, and sends a copy of the disclosure statement to APOC.
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The clerk should then check the voter registration list and local code of ordinances to find out if the candidate meets the qualifications to hold office. If any problems are identified during this review and/or additional information is required, the clerk should send a letter to the candidate explaining what is needed. A sample Candidacy Acceptance or Rejection letter requesting additional information is available in the Additional Resources section below.
Any person is eligible to run for elected office who: is registered to vote in state elections at a residence address in the borough or city at least 30 days before the election; has been a resident of the municipality for 30 days immediately preceding the election; and is not disqualified under Article V of the State Constitution or AS 29.26.050.
Under AS 29.20.140, a municipality may adopt an ordinance providing term limits or residency requirements for members of its governing body. Though this hasn't been spelled out in statute, an Alaska Supreme Court decision held that the three-year residency requirement authorized in this statute was excessive [Peloza v Freas (871 P.2d 687 (Alaska 1994)]. As a result of this court decision, the residency standard is now one year. There are no term limits or limitations on the number of consecutive terms allowed unless an ordinance that imposes such limits has been adopted and ratified by the voters of the municipality.
State law (AS 29.26.030) requires that a municipality give at least 20 days notice for an election. Some municipalities require longer notice. Check your ordinances to ensure proper notice. Your election ordinance should also describe the information that needs to be included in the notice. At a minimum, the election notice should state:
Though not required by statute, it is a good idea to complete an affidavit of posting documenting the time and place the notice was posted. This will provide proof of proper notice in case it becomes an issue later on. The affidavit should be signed by one witness and attested by the city clerk. A sample Affidavit of Posting Election Notice can be found in the Additional Resources.
The municipal clerk is responsible for creating the ballot according to the timeline, paying close attention to the last days that a candidate can file for office. Some local laws establish a specific format or particular way candidate’s names are to be printed. A sample ballot should be created and proof read multiple times over the course of a few days, two neat tricks to catch errors are to read it out loud and read it from bottom to top.
Is there help available for conducting elections?
Yes. If your local election ordinance, the Plain English Guide to Elections, and/or this section do not address the issue, the State of Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, Division of Community and Regional Affairs Regional Offices provide local government assistance both on-site and over the phone.
Can a person run for or hold more than one elective office at the same time?
A person may be nominated or declare candidacy for and occupy more than one office, except a borough mayor may not also serve as a member of the assembly, nor may a mayor of a first class city serve as a council member. (AS 29.26.020(b)) Serving as mayor or council member while serving on the school board or a local advisory board are examples of occupying more than one office.
How do you know which elected offices need to be filled?
Alaska law (AS 29.20.150) provides for a term of three years for members of a governing body, unless an ordinance is adopted for a different term not to exceed four years. The mayor's term in a first class city is also limited to three years unless a local ordinance extends it to four years (AS 29.20.230). Most municipalities have chosen three-year terms that are staggered to prevent all seats on a governing body from becoming vacant at the same time. This information is usually contained in the section of the ordinance addressing the rules for governing bodies, not in the election ordinance. Each seat on a governing body must be subject to re-election when the term for that seat has been completed, or if an appointment occurred to fill a vacancy.
What special rules apply when someone is appointed to a vacant seat?
If a member of the governing body was appointed to fill a vacancy, the appointed member serves only until the next regular election (AS 29.20.180 and .280). The appointed seat is then placed on the ballot and the term for the seat is whatever time was remaining for the person initially elected to that seat. In other words, the election is to fill the seat only for the "unexpired" term of the seat. For example, if a person is appointed to a seat in the middle of the second year of a three-year term, that seat would come up for election at the end of the second year and the term would be for the one year remaining of the original term.
Who determines what goes on the ballot?
The municipal clerk or other election official is responsible for preparing all official ballots using the procedure spelled out in local ordinance and information from candidate nomination petitions, declarations of candidacy, certified initiative petitions, certified referendum petitions, or propositions adopted by the governing body.
The governing body may place other questions on the ballot. When the governing body wants a question placed on the ballot, the members direct the clerk to do so in one of three ways: by passing a motion, by adopting a resolution, or by adopting an ordinance. Your local ordinances or state statute will determine which method is used.
The results of questions placed on the ballot through a referendum petition or initiative petition are binding if the question passes. When preparing the ballot it is important to remember to provide enough instruction on the ballot to ensure the voter can fill out the ballot correctly and the vote can be counted. As an example, spoiled ballot instructions and the requirement for marking the box next to a write-in candidate should be stressed.
Is an election held if no one files to run for elected office?
Yes. Conducting regular elections is one of the primary duties of a municipality and the election must be held whether there are declared candidates or not. Instead of writing in candidate names on the ballot, prepare the ballot with lines so voters can write-in the name of the person they are casting their vote for. Under state law (AS 29.60.290) a municipality must conduct a regular election within the prior fiscal year to qualify for State Revenue Sharing payments.
Where does the voter registration list come from?
The State Division of Elections maintains the voter registration lists and will provide copies to a municipality upon request. This list is a requirement for verifying voter eligibility on election day. You should request two separate lists - one to verify candidate eligibility and one to verify voter eligibility. A good rule of thumb is to request a voter registration list 45 days prior to an election to confirm whether a candidate is eligible to run for office, and a second list 30 days prior to the election. The second list is used to confirm whether a person is eligible to vote. The Division of Elections is very good about automatically sending the municipality a voter list for regularly scheduled elections, but the division will not know about any special elections and it will be the municipality’s responsibility to contact them.
How do residents register to vote?
A person may register to vote on a form provided by Division of Elections using one of the following methods: in person before a registration official or through a voter registration agency such as DMV, Department of Health and Social Services, or Commerce; via the division’s website; by mail; or by fax.
You may request an application by mail from a Division of Elections Office or get a Voter Registration Application from the Division of Elections. A person may also use a Voter Registration Application to show a name change, address change, or party membership change, per AS 15.07.010-200.
How is residency determined?
Residents must be registered 30 days before the election if they want to vote in the election. The Division of Elections updates the voter registration list to reflect those people who registered in time to vote in the election. Residents who register to vote after the 30-day limit will not be on the Master Voter Registration list. The Division of Elections determines a voter's residency under the rules spelled out in AS 15.05.020. Contact the Division of Elections if there are questions about residency.
How are the polling places and the boundaries for precincts decided?
Only the Division of Elections can decide or change precinct boundaries and polling places within the boundary. (AS 15.10.020) A Municipality may not change the polling place without first notifying the Division of Elections and receiving approval. If an emergency prohibits use of the polling site on election day, choose another site with the best possible public access and notify the Division of Elections immediately.
Can election officials all be registered to one political party?
Municipal elections are non-partisan. AS 29.06.320(1)(E) states that a home rule charter must include nonpartisan government. Title 29 does not specify the same requirement for general law communities, however, the qualifications to run for municipal office have no requirement other than being qualified to vote and living in a designated area. (AS 29.20.140).
How are voting rights lost and restored?
The Alaska Constitution (Article V, Section 2) and AS 15.05.030 specify that a person convicted of a crime that constitutes a felony involving moral turpitude may not vote in a state, federal, or municipal election from the date of conviction through the date of unconditional discharge (completion of time served, parole, and/or probation). The person must show proof of the unconditional discharge from custody when registering to vote. Moral turpitude is defined in AS 15.60.010(7).What steps need to be taken before the election for absentee voting?
A person may request an absentee ballot either in person, by mail, or by personal representative. Municipal timelines for requesting absentee ballots will differ so check your election ordinance to find out the time frame for your municipality. If your ordinance does not have this information, consider amending your ordinance to include it. The Sample Election Ordinance contains appropriate language. Your election ordinance should describe the procedure for voting an absentee ballot. At a minimum the process should involve:
Before absentee voting can begin, the clerk must have the election ballots, "absentee ballot applications," "absentee ballot oath and affidavit envelopes," "special needs ballot envelopes," plain white secrecy envelopes, and the Master Voter Registration List. If the Master Voter Registration List is not available, keep a list of all absentee ballots requested.
How does absentee voting occur in person?
A person may vote early and cast an absentee ballot in person at the municipality's office. The municipality's election ordinance should describe the procedure for obtaining and voting an absentee ballot in person.
How does absentee voting occur by mail?
A voter may request an absentee ballot by mail. The municipality's election ordinance should describe the procedure for obtaining and voting an absentee ballot by mail.
How does absentee voting occur by personal representative?
A person may use a personal representative to obtain an absentee ballot. A personal representative physically carries the application and absentee ballot from the polling place to the voter, then back to the ballot box.
The personal representative then returns the envelope to the voting official who completes the information on the envelope and places it in the ballot box.
Recommended web site search topics:
Alaska Constitution - Article V
Alaska Administrative Code