Voters rejecting recall of Midtown Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel

Preliminary special election results Tuesday showed Midtown voters by a wide margin rejecting an effort to recall Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel.

So far, 61.2% of voters opposed Zaletel’s recall while 38.8% voted yes. The percentages will likely change in the coming days as more ballots are tallied. Updated District 4 results will be posted on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as counting continues, the city clerk’s office said.

The preliminary results posted Tuesday evening included 9,346 ballots. Organizers on both sides of the recall effort expect lower turnout in this special election, compared to a previous Assembly recall vote that occurred during the regular municipal election in April.

As voting closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, election workers gathered the last of the ballots that voters had placed in drop boxes and the ballots cast in person at the Anchorage Vote Center in the Loussac Library. Another 1,320 ballots arrived on election day for a total of approximately 10,880, according to the clerk’s office. None of the ballots cast on Tuesday were included in that night’s initial election results.

[Recall vote of Assembly member Meg Zaletel viewed as a proxy battle over the future of Anchorage politics]

While ballots are still arriving, it’s unlikely that the outcome of the vote will change, Zaletel said during an interview Wednesday.

“We want to wait and see what all of the vote count shows for the outcome,” she said.

“It’s strongly in our favor, and I don’t anticipate that changing,” Zaletel said. “I think if it did, it would be very unexpected.”

More ballots will continue to arrive by mail. Most ballots postmarked by Oct. 26 have until Nov. 8 to make it to the elections center and be counted. Military and overseas ballots have until noon on Nov. 9 to arrive and be counted.

Russell Biggs, a local anesthesiologist and the main sponsor of the initiative and recall petition, said voters should have seen the recall initiative on the April ballot instead of a special election.

“The results are not surprising given the amount of Outside money that was funneled into the sate, and the fact that Zaletel successfully delayed the recall vote for a year by suing to stop it,” he said by text message.

The vote comes more than a year after the recall petition against Zaletel was initially filed and after a state Supreme Court fight over whether it could proceed.

It is also nearly identical to a recall initiative against Midtown Assembly member Felix Rivera that voters rejected in April. During that recall vote, which was held during the regular municipal election, just over 12,500 Midtown ballots were cast — under 30% of the district’s registered voters.

In this case, about 22% of the total registered voters in the district have already had their ballots counted so far. Both campaigns have said that it would likely be more difficult to turn out voters to cast ballots on the initiative in the Zaletel recall vote because it is not occurring during a regular election.

Both sides of the recall effort poured tens of thousands of dollars into the special election.

A third-party group supporting Zaletel received a $70,000 donation from a national labor union group, though state records show most donations directly to Zaletel’s anti-recall campaign have been local.

As of Monday, state records also showed that more than $140,700 had been raised in the recall effort — about $10,000 more than the $130,400 raised to support Zaletel.

The official stated reason for the recall vote is that Zaletel participated in an Assembly meeting that may have had too many people present under a COVID-19 emergency order last year. But campaigners say the vote is really a battle over policy disagreements and the direction of politics in Anchorage.

Zaletel has largely supported the city’s current and previous COVID-19 restrictions, and many of the recall’s proponents have opposed such restrictions. Zaletel supported other issues last year that some residents vehemently opposed, such as a plan to purchase buildings for homeless and treatment services using CARES Act funds.

Zaletel said she is ready to move past the recall and instead focus on the issues Anchorage faces.

“It’s really about getting back to work,” she said. “We’re in the middle of budget season, and it would be nice to get back to work without this as a distraction for the constituents and residents of Midtown.”