Mat-Su assembly will consider adding party affiliation to ballots for borough races

PALMER — A proposed Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly ordinance would allow local candidates to include their political party affiliation on the election ballot for the first time.

Another proposed ordinance would extend the terms of future assembly members, as well as the borough mayor, from three years to four.

Neither change would require voter approval.

The measures, sponsored by Mat-Su Assembly members Rob Yundt and Dee McKee, are slated to be considered by the assembly at a Jan. 16 meeting during which the public can provide comment.

The proposal to add political parties to the local ballot would allow borough assembly, mayoral and school board candidates to proclaim a political party affiliation when running for office, a change that statewide municipal government and school board experts said would likely mark a first for Alaska.

Under the proposal, candidates would not be required to designate a specific party, and doing so would not mean they are nominated or endorsed by a party, the legislation states.

But it would alter all borough candidate ballots and election information starting next year. Under the proposal, candidates would appear on the ballot one of three ways: labeled with the party identified on their voter registration information; as “nonpartisan”; or as “undeclared.” It would also block candidates from designating a party with which they are not a registered voter.


Borough law requires school board, assembly and mayoral positions to be nonpartisan. Adding political party affiliations would not require that to change, a memo accompanying the legislation states, because the addition of political labels would not trigger closed primaries or block voters registered with one party from voting for a candidate affiliated with another.

“It is not the intent of this ordinance to make Matanuska-Susitna Borough elections party-driven or partisan in nature,” the memo states. The law that all borough elections are nonpartisan “will remain to ensure that there is no suggestion that races can be closed to certain voters based upon political affiliation or that political parties or groups can control who will become a candidate.”

The measure is meant to give voters clarity about whom they are voting for and what the candidate is likely to do while in office, not add politics to the assembly or school board, McKee said in an interview.

“Labeling creates forthrightness,” she said. “It just lets people know, if I’m buying a can of sardines, I want to know what’s in there.”

An official with the Association of Alaska School Boards said no state school boards currently allow candidates to declare a political party during elections.

And while the Alaska Municipal League does not officially track whether local councils and assemblies allow candidates to declare political parties, officials there said they are unaware of any that currently do so.

“That’s why the Mat-Su Borough gets things done, because we do unprecedented things,” McKee said.

[Mat-Su assembly bans voting machines for borough elections starting next year]

A second proposal also on the agenda for the assembly’s Jan. 16 meeting would stretch mayoral and assembly member terms from three years to four, effective for officials elected from 2024 onward. The change would not affect school board elections.

Currently, borough assembly elections are held each November, with seats appearing on the ballot two to three at a time, depending on the year. Extending assembly and mayoral terms to four years would put borough assembly races in step with statewide and national elections, which happen on even-numbered years only and see a significantly higher voter turnout than borough-only elections, a memo accompanying the legislation states.

Alaska state law allows municipalities to grow or shrink term lengths of elected officials so long as they do not exceed four years.

McKee said the proposal extends terms to four years rather than shrinking them to two, which would also put the vote on even-numbered years, because the shorter duration is not enough time for new lawmakers to both tackle the steep learning curve brought by joining the assembly and make change.

“You just can’t get a lot done in two years,” McKee said.

Yundt declined to respond to questions about either proposal.

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Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.