Borough election ballots in Mat-Su will include political parties, a first for Alaska

PALMER — Starting in November, ballots for Mat-Su Borough mayoral, assembly and school board candidates will include political party affiliations, marking a first for local governments in Alaska.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly voted Tuesday to approve the change rather than send the question to voters as previously proposed.

The vote allows school board and assembly candidates to designate a political party affiliation when running for office. Candidates who do not will be listed on ballots as “nonpartisan” or “undeclared.”

By law, local elections in Alaska are nonpartisan and ballots around the state historically have not included political party information for any local candidates. Mat-Su is the first municipality to add partisan information, according to statewide municipal government and school board experts.

The assembly voted 5-2 on Tuesday to approve the change. Voting no were members Stephanie Nowers, whose district includes Palmer, and Tim Hale, whose district includes Butte. The change was proposed by Rob Yundt, whose district includes Wasilla, and Dee McKee, whose district includes portions of Wasilla and Palmer.

Originally introduced in mid-January, the partisan ballot measure had been postponed until Tuesday to allow officials to create language that would instead send the question to voters in November.

But that move was ultimately defeated 4-3, with all but Nowers, Hale and Bill Gamble, whose district includes Big Lake, voting no. Yundt, who in January said he would “fully support” sending the question to voters, ultimately moved against doing so.


“Out of respect for the process, I did postpone this, thinking someone might come up with an amendment that might work,” he said during the meeting. “But to me honestly, this is a big bag of nothing.”

The measure adding partisan labels to ballots does not change a requirement under borough law that mayoral, school board and assembly races be nonpartisan. That’s because labeling does not trigger closed primaries or block voters registered with one party from voting for a candidate affiliated with another, a memo accompanying the original proposal states.

Starting in November, Mat-Su candidates will appear on the ballot one of three ways: with the party identified on their voter registration information; as “nonpartisan”; or as “undeclared.” The measure blocks candidates from designating a party with which they are not registered to vote.

McKee said adding party information will help voters understand the candidates’ values, but rejected the idea that doing so inserts partisanship into the assembly or school board.

“To me it’s an honesty issue. I just want everybody to know who I am,” she said during Tuesday’s meeting. “It doesn’t fundamentally change anything. It does not make the election partisan.”

Hale disagreed, arguing that adding political affiliation to local issues adds unnecessary divisiveness to local decisions.

“Local elections are supposed to be nonpartisan,” he said during the meeting. “There is nothing partisan about roads and schools and fire trucks.”

The measure marks the second major change to borough election policies this year after the assembly voted 5-2 in January to extend the terms of future assembly members, as well as the borough mayor, from three years to four. Like the measure adding partisan information to ballots, that change was proposed by Yundt and McKee.

Amy Bushatz

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