Charter says special election ‘shall’ be held after 90 days; will Assembly violate law?


The Anchorage Municipal Charter calls for a special election to be held 90 days after the mayor’s seat becomes vacant. An Assembly work session on Thursday will lead to a vote next Tuesday on whether that election will occur.

“A vacancy in the office of mayor shall be filled at a regular or special election held not less than 90 days from the time the vacancy occurs,” the Charter reads.

With Mayor Ethan Berkowitz resigning effective Oct. 23, that means after Jan. 21, Anchorage residents should be allowed to vote on a temporary mayor, one who will serve until July 1, when the mayor-elect from the regularly scheduled April 6 election takes office.

It’s not that simple, of course, but if there is no special election, Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, who was elected to her Assembly seat in District 3, Seat E with 7,440 votes, could rule over the city for eight months.

That’s 7,440 votes from an election that saw a total of one-third of voters — 71,382 Anchorage voters — casting their ballots.

Just 10.4 percent of the voters cast a ballot for Quinn-Davidson in the 2020 election, and yet, she will be their mayor.

As the Associated Press put it, “Anchorage, Alaska chooses 1st woman, openly gay acting mayor.”

Not exactly, of course. Voters did not choose Quinn-Davidson to be mayor. A fraction of them chose her to be their district representative.

Getting an election done before April is an aggressive schedule made more complicated by the mail-in election that Anchorage has adopted after the Anchorage Assembly approved an all-mail-in method, starting with the 2017 municipal election. Mail-in elections are more time-consuming and labor intensive.

They cost more, too. A special election could cost the taxpayers more than $300,000.

The Assembly has no time to lose to give the Municipal Clerk the time she needs to roll out a special election. But as much as it seems to be clear in the Municipal Charter, here’s what the Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel has to say, in her memo to the Assembly:

“The Anchorage Municipal Charter requires the Assembly to fill the vacancy in one of three ways: (1) through a special election to be held on or after Thursday, January 21, 2021 to elect a new mayor to serve until June 30, 2021; (2) through a regular election to be held on April 6, 2021 to elect the next mayor who would take office on July 1, 2021, similar to past practice; or (3) through the regular election to be held on April 6, 2021 but seating the successor at some earlier date to be provided in Code. (This requires a simple Code amendment, which should be adopted soon if this option is desired.) The Chair of the Assembly will serve as “Acting Mayor” in the interim, and return to the assembly as chair once the successor mayor has taken office. Performing as acting mayor does not create a vacancy in the assembly chair’s elected seat,” Vogel wrote.

In a normal election, the Anchorage Division of Elections mails out ballots three weeks prior to the election deadline day. Voters must have their ballots in the mail or in secure drop boxes by that day — this coming year that day is April 6.

If a special election is held after Jan. 21, the Municipality would have to mail ballots in early January, and that means the ballots would need to be printed in late December.

Backing up the calendar, it means the application process for candidates would need to open and close in December — it’s a two-week filing period — and that also requires public notification in the newspaper of record, which would need to happen close to the application period. December would be a busy time for the Municipal Clerk’s office.

City Attorney Kate Vogel has now given the Assembly wiggle room by saying that the Muni “can” rather than “shall” have an election. It’s the Assembly’s choice, she said in her memo to the members.

Finally, the provision states that the vacancy can be filled at either a regular or a special election, Vogel wrote.

In other words, according to attorney Vogel, the Assembly can do whatever it wants, in spite of what the charter says.

If incoming acting mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, who is currently the subject of a recall, gets her way, she will be acting mayor for more than 17 percent of the elected term of office for now-disgraced Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

Adding to the confusion is that the filing packets for candidates for the April election will be posted on the Muni website on or around Dec. 1, 2020, giving them 45 full days to get their application filed. For the regular election, filing for office opens Jan. 15 and closes on Jan. 29, right on top of the special election window.

The Assembly is on a very tight timeframe for getting a special election done, but is showing no sense of urgency. Will the Assembly follow the law or find a way to circumvent it?


  1. The far left members of this assembly have been sneaky and dishonest about everything they have considered since arriving at the assembly and there is no reason to believe they will handle anything differently in their future…We can only hope pray that the citizens of Anchorage will get some relief on November 03 to help them through the troubled waters this bunch will continue to stir until replaced next year.

  2. That’s an excellent write up. And they fully intend to run out the clock on this. Barbara Jones, the muni clerk, was quoted in the ADN as saying the muni charter language is problem and it needs to be fixed to define the rules. Trouble is, that quote is from 2012, and despite it being eight years later nothing got done – and now the Assembly is leveraging another embarrassing legal opinion for more political power that they didn’t earn.

  3. The fact that it says a “regular or a special election” not less than 90 days after the vacancy means that the date is not fixed, and that, as the municipal attorney has pointed out, there are now options. I could have wished that the Municipal Charter had been more specific, since an election immediately after 90 days would mean a new mayor until June 30th, and not an interim acting mayor appointed by the Assembly until that date. Are there political consequences for the Assembly Members if they choose not to hold a special election ? If not, Quinn Davidson will be appointed on October 23rd and remain acting mayor until June 30th… The regular election on April 6th will proceed as scheduled.

    • Andrew is probably right that there is some weasel room in the Charter for when the new Mayor is chosen. I am not from Anchorage, so for me the most interesting question is if the Acting Mayor has one, two or zero votes on Assembly matters, and/or a veto power. Who votes the empty Assembly seat for those 8 months? Who represents the voters of that district while the Acting Mayor represents all the voters of Anchorage?

      Seems to me that “Acting Mayor” is supposed to be a short term proposition, not an 8 month job, with right of return to their original Assembly seat at the end of Acting.

    • That IS the way the law is. This is not a new thing. Happened about 10 years ago or so.

      Sure wish they would say we get a free new car every year, but I don’t suspect the rest of their work because my wants are not heeded in that part.

  4. Mayor, nor anyone else in a government position rules over anyone in the United States of America. They function within the responsibility of their one position.

    Of course if you would like a rule-over kind of government you are in the wrong country.

    • And yet “rule-over” is exactly what the Anchorage mayor, Anchorage Assembly, and Alaska governor are doing… Their fake-emergency powers have made them all rulers by fiat, and not a one of them has made a move to step down from their respective thrones.
      Shame on most Anchorage residents and almost all Alaskans for bowing to their majesties.

      • This is simply not true. I understand you want to believe it, but we have a deadly virus to deal with. This is a health matter. Not a ruling by fiat. And we are on the governor’s recall for his illegal acts as governor.

      • The only one who thinks he can rule over is you. It is unconstitutional to act that was. That means it is against the law and would have legal consequences.

        Like DUNLEAVY keeps finding himself because he tries to rule over. And D is only following the lead of our president-who is now losing all his legal stunts as well.

        But revving up the emotion of it all without factual information, and spreading anti-American fears sure is exciting for you, no?

  5. The earliest realistic date for a mayor to be installed after a special election is early March if you consider the high likelihood of needing a runoff when no one gets 45% of the vote in late January. Think I’m wrong: other than 2003, every open mayoral election (no incumbent) since the 45% rule was implemented has required a runoff. That’s $650K to create further administrative chaos by having a mayor who may not be the one elected to take office July 1, i.e. 4 mayors in 9 months. And what the article ignores is that is $650,000 to shave the interim term from 9 months to 4.5 months.

    The Municipal Attorney recognizes a useful third option, that fiscal conservatives should be all over: have the new Mayor’s term start as soon as the election is certified in April rather than waiting until July 1. Saves the City a pile of money and avoids the insanity of having a second short-term interim mayor. You want to find out how many people think 4.5 months of Dustin Durden might be funny? Not to mention that in a special election runoff scenario, the time is such that runoff and regular election ballots might be crossing in the mail.

  6. Link to opinion of Municipal Attorney? I would be curious to know if any rationale or authority was stated for the opinion or whether it was all just made up.

  7. A. Assembly does what is right.
    B. Assembly chooses autocracy
    C. Assembly chooses to hold immediate election.
    D. Assembly asks what is the will of the people.

    I’m gonna go with ‘B’ Assembly chooses to dominate over the will of those who oppose them. B. Final Answer.

  8. ALL the assembly body’s must be vetted on past deed’s then weeded out like chaff and burn up their liberal political carriers !!!

  9. “A vacancy in the office of mayor shall be filled at a regular or special election held not less than 90 days from the time the vacancy occurs.”

    Take a reading lesson ADN. Learn to read. The special election is BEFORE 90 DAYS, not after. Shall means Shall. “Less than 90 days means less than….

    • the “not”
      means you can’t hold a special election till at least 90 days have passed.

      Which is dumb-but that is what the text means. The txt also allows for no special election.

      What law is being broken?

  10. Municipal Attorney must have gotten her law degree from a Cracker Jack Box. The word “SHALL” in legal terms means must. If they violate the Municipality Charter the State AG should immediately step in and rule over the Assembly. There is no legal precedent for them to ingnore the Charter.

  11. So, let me see if I have this correct.

    The Muni went to all mail voting, without asking how well it would work if a special election needs to happen? Accidents, death, sickness, and stupidity are all reasons why an elected official may not be able to serve their full term. Yet, the muni just blindly went ahead and put mail in elections in place without asking if there was a time frame associate with it.

    Oh, and the cost? No one asked if it would cost more to have a mail in election? Sounds about right for our Assembly. Vote and approve resolutions without asking “how could this go wrong?”

  12. The Charter states “shall” which is definitive language for an election. The length of time after 90 days is not defined; however, the implementation of the elected mayor is defined and does not necessitate at July 1 transition. If the election were to happen on January 21 or April 6, it appears that the office would be filled by the newly elected mayor once the election has been made official.

  13. This analysis is ridiculous. The charter says the election must be held “not LESS than 90 days” after the vacancy occurs — which means any time after 90 days works!

  14. This charter language was on the ballot and passed in 1984 (Prop 3). Does anyone know about the pro/con discussions at the time and if they actually meant it to say the election had to be held after 90 days and not before? That would make more sense to me.

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