Birch drops push to change 2014 city election; eyes change for 2017

nherz@adn.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Assemblyman Chris Birch has dropped an effort to push back this year's municipal election to November from its regularly scheduled date in April.

At Tuesday's Assembly meeting, Birch introduced a new measure that would still change the election date, but delays the move until 2017, so that Assembly members wouldn't be voting on a measure that has the side effect of extending their own terms.

That follows an opinion from the city's ethics board that said Anchorage's ethics rules would have prohibited Assembly members from voting on Birch's original proposal.

Birch, who has represented Anchorage for nearly nine years and is barred by term limits from running for re-election, said Tuesday he still would prefer to see the date changed effective this year -- which would have kept him in office for many more months.

"But, obviously, politics is the art of compromise," he said. "I don't think there's sufficient support on the body for 2014."

Birch's new proposal is co-sponsored by two other members, Ernie Hall and Bill Starr.

Birch maintains that moving city elections from April to November would dramatically boost voter turnout, and cites historical data showing roughly 50 to 60 percent turnout for recent state races, versus recent city races that have drawn 20 to 35 percent of voters.

Birch, Hall, and Starr are all on the majority side of the Assembly's tight six-to-five split, with the group tending to side with Mayor Dan Sullivan on key issues.

In an emailed statement, Sullivan said he backs Birch's proposal.

"The research proves that the voter turnout is increased significantly compared to April elections," he said. "Greater voter turnout is simply a good thing. I support Assembly Birch's efforts."

Assemblyman Dick Traini, who's in the five-member minority group, said he opposed Birch's move, noting that the city's politicians moved elections from the fall to the spring two decades ago in part because local races were getting drowned out by state-level campaigns.

"You can get more people to turn out. We just have to be more creative," he said in a phone interview. "There's ways to improve the voting. We just haven't tried doing it yet."

Birch's new proposal will get a public hearing at the Assembly's next meeting, on Feb. 25.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

 

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