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Local Government Resource Desk


Conducting a General Municipal Election


Conducting an election can be an easy process if you have been careful to follow all the necessary steps and in the correct order. If you have not already reviewed the Resource Desk chapter on 'Preparing for a General Municipal Election', you may want to do so to verify that all the prior steps have been followed. For information on what happens after Election Day, see the Resource Desk chapter 'Certifying the Election' in 'Elections' under Resource Desk Links to the left.

Other than a very few minimum mandatory requirements, the Alaska Constitution and State statutes allow local governments a great deal of flexibility in how elections are conducted. State law does, however, require that a governing body prescribe rules for conducting an election (AS 29.26.010). Your municipality's election ordinance will explain the election process for your community. Unless there is a local ordinance providing otherwise, the local municipal election must be held on the first Tuesday in October (AS 29.26.040). If a municipality fails to follow the local election ordinance and applicable state law in conducting an election, the election could be voided and a new election ordered.


Elections are one of the most important functions performed by government. They are the means by which a person can exercise choice and affect outcomes and they provide feedback to elected officials on public evaluation of a candidate or elected official's performance or ideas. There are a lot of details to pay attention to in the process. Although it may seem that all the required steps make the process more complicated than it needs to be, the reason for these is to ensure and protect each individual's right to vote.

Residents must be registered 30 days before the election if they want to vote in the election. The Division of Elections updates the voter registration list to reflect those people who registered in time to vote in the election. Residents who register to vote after the 30-day limit will not be on the Master Voter Registration list.

On the morning of the election, the election supervisor or the chairman of the election workers announces that the polls are open. Usually, this means that, at the morning time determined by local law, the official in charge announces, “The polls for the general municipal are open."

The normal order of events for a voter in the election process is as follows:

  1. The voter enters and announces name.
  2. The voter provides one piece of identification to the election worker. This ID could be one of, but not limited to, the following: official voter card, driver's license, passport, birth certificate, hunting or fishing license, senior citizen's ID card, Indian health service ID card, military ID card, signed polling place ID card, college ID card, or union ID card.
  3. The election worker locates the voter's name on the Precinct Register.
  4. The voter signs above the printed name next to the "X" in the box provided.
  5. The election worker checks one of the blocks on the Precinct Register regarding identification. "VC" stands for "voter's card"; "OI" stands for "other identification"; and "PK" stands for "personally known". In order for an election worker to say that he personally knows a person, they must be able to call that person by first and last name.
  6. If a voter has a change of address, ask the voter to vote a questioned ballot and to complete a voter registration form. Address changes written on the Precinct Register will not be processed.
  7. After the voter has signed the Precinct Register, they are given a ballot.
  8. The voter goes to a polling booth or private place to mark the ballot(s).
  9. The voter deposits the ballot in the ballot box unless he requests one of the election worker to do so for him.

If a person wants to vote, but doesn't show up on the precinct list, they should vote a "questioned ballot". Anyone wanting to vote must be allowed to. Local election worker are not authorized to deny a person the right to vote, per AS 15.07.010.

  1. The person fills out an "oath and affidavit envelope" stating that he or she is a registered voter.
  2. The person is then given a ballot and instructed to return to an election worker after voting.
  3. The ballot is placed in a plain, unmarked envelope that is then placed in a questioned ballot envelope.
  4. The "affidavit envelope" is sealed and signed by the election worker and is then placed in the ballot box.

Before these ballots are counted, the municipal clerk must check with the Division of Elections to see if the person is registered to vote. If the person is registered, the ballot is counted. If the person is not registered to vote in the municipality, the ballot is not opened and is not counted. Send a letter to the person explaining why the ballot was not counted.

The polls must remain open until the closing time stated in your local ordinance. This is usually 8:00 PM, but check your own local ordinances to be sure. When the polls close, the election supervisor announces, “The polls for the general municipal election are now closed.” From that point on, only voters waiting in line may cast ballots. If no one is waiting, the polls are closed immediately.

After the polls have closed and everyone who was in line has voted, the ballots are counted as follows:

  • Open the ballot box and separate the questioned/challenged ballots. These go to the city clerk for processing.
  • Sort the ballots into groups of 25. Count the total number of ballots and record the number on the ballot "tally sheet."
  • One election judge reads the ballot and one election judge tallies on the original tally sheet. The third election judge tallies on the duplicate tally sheet.
  • Count only those marks that are properly made. Improper marks or erasure marks invalidate only that section of the ballot where they appear. If more than one name is marked for a candidate race, that section of the ballot can't be counted. If no mark is made in a section, the rest of the properly marked ballot is counted.
  • Ballots are tallied directly on the tally sheets. Ballots are counted in groups of 25. Each time a vote is called, a downward stroke is marked. Mark every fifth vote with a diagonal stroke. Switch pen colors between each group of 25 and verify that both tally sheets match.
  • If there are write-in candidates, the candidate's name must be written in the blank space AND the mark must be made next to the name.
  • Count the tally marks for each candidate race and any ballot propositions. Compare both tally sheets to make sure they match. Record the totals on the ballot tally sheet and complete the "Tally sheet".
  • Place the counted ballots in an envelope, seal the envelope, and give it to the city clerk.

The ballots will be locked in a secure location and a “preliminary elections results” report can be posted, the posting should state the date and time when the results will be certified and the process to contest the election.

At this point, the election worker's jobs have finished.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is there help available for conducting elections?

Yes. If your local election ordinance, the publication 'Plain English Guide to Elections' located in the next section under 'Additional Resources', and/or this section do not address the issue, a Local Government Specialist with DCRA can provide assistance both on-site and over the phone.

Who is responsible for preparing for the election and making sure it runs smoothly?
Under state law (AS 29.20.380), the municipal clerk is supervisor of elections and is responsible for administering all municipal elections. The governing body, mayor or manager having oversight of the clerk is responsible for ensuring the clerk's duties are carried out, and members of the public are ultimately responsible for ensuring municipal officials execute local law.

What are the minimum mandatory requirements for conducting an election?
Under state law a municipality must:

  • prescribe rules for conducting an election and appoint an election board from precinct voters, unless no voter is willing to serve (AS 29.26.010);
  • conduct the regular municipal election on the first Tuesday in October annually, unless otherwise provided by ordinance (AS 29.26.040);
  • conduct a runoff election if no candidate receives 40% of the vote for the office of mayor or a designated seat, unless otherwise provided by ordinance (AS 29.26.060(a)), or if no candidate in an at large election receives greater than 40% of the total votes cast divided by the number of seats to be filled, unless otherwise provided by ordinance (AS 29.26.060(b));
  • if appropriate, conduct a runoff election within three weeks after certification of the election and publish notice of the election for at least five days before the election date, unless otherwise provided by ordinance (AS 29.26.060(c));
  • conduct the runoff election with only the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes for the seat (AS 29.26.060(c));
  • declare the election results at the first meeting to canvas the election, record the results in the meeting minutes, and authorize the results to be certified, unless otherwise provided by ordinance (AS 29.26.070(c));
  • require a contestant to pay all costs of an election recount if the count fails to reverse the result or the difference between the winning vote count and losing vote count is more than 2% (AS 29.26.070(d));
  • require a person wanting to appeal or seek judicial review to be a voter, exhaust all administrative remedy before the governing body before seeking judicial review, and, if seeking judicial review, commence any court action within 10 days of date the governing body declares the election results (AS 29.26.070(e)).

The Alaska Constitution (Article V, Section 3) also protects the right to vote by absentee ballot, the right to vote by secret ballot, and the right to contest an election and seek judicial review of election practices.

Who enforces the rules?

The local governing body is the enforcement entity and is responsible for providing administrative review of the election process and/or actions of election officials. If a person disagrees with a decision of the governing body they may file a lawsuit to request judicial review of the decision. The governing body indicates its review and approval of the election by certifying the election in writing. (AS 29.26.070) A sample "certificate of election" is available in the Additional Resources section below.

Can alcohol be sold on election day?

Check your code of ordinances. State law (AS 04.16.070) prohibits the sale of alcohol on election day while the polls are open unless the municipality has adopted an ordinance stating otherwise.

What is electioneering?

Electioneering is a term used to refer to election practices prohibited in State elections by AS 15.15.160 and .170, this statute does not apply to municipal elections, unless the municipality has adopted it by reference or has a similar law. These prohibited practices are: discussion of any political party, candidate, or political issue by election board members during the time the polls are open; and a prohibition against persuading a person to vote for or against a candidate, proposition, or question, in or within 200 feet of any polling place or entrance to a polling place. This statute also requires election officials to post warning notices at the required distance to the polling place.

Some actions may not seem to be election offenses but are. For instance, State law prohibits wearing a campaign button ("vote for Mary Smith") within 200 feet of the polling place during a state election. Telling someone to vote in a certain manner while within 200 feet of the polling place is also considered an election offense. Cell phones are becoming quite common. During some elections, voters in the voting booth have used their cell phones to call someone to ask advice on how to vote. Since others can overhear the conversation, it is wise to prohibit the use of cell phones in the polling place.

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How is the polling place decided on?

Only the Division of Elections has the authority to decide and/or change polling places (AS 15.10.020). A municipality may not change the polling place without first notifying the Division of Elections and receiving approval. If an emergency prohibits use of the polling site on election day, election officials may choose another site with the best possible public access and notify the Division of Elections immediately.

What is the proper way to set up a polling place?

Set up the polling place to ensure an easy flow of traffic for voters to enter the polling place, sign in, get a ballot, vote, put the ballot in the ballot box, prepare challenged or questioned ballot documents, and leave the polling place.

Keep in mind that the unused ballots must be safe guarded at all times and that access to the polling booth must be limited to the voter (and any person legitimately assisting the voter). The polling booths are set up so that the election judges, while still maintaining the voter's privacy, can monitor them. The booths should not contain anything except those specific items needed by the voter to vote (voting machines or pens for marking the ballot).

What voting equipment and supplies are needed at the polling place?

Ballots are controlled items. This means that all the ballots must be accounted for before and after the election. To do this, the municipal clerk prepares a ballot receipt form, which is signed by the clerk and the election worker. This form specifies the number of ballots delivered to and received at the polling place.

Some municipalities use punch cards or Accuvote machines for voting. They must be set up and working properly the morning of the election. If your municipality uses Accuvote, please contact the Division of Elections for assistance with their use.

In addition to the ballots, the election worker will need the following items:

  • Master Voter Registration list
  • Challenged or questioned ballot materials
  • Sample ballot for posting
  • Tally sheets for counting the ballots after the polls close
  • Ballot accountability report
  • Pens, paper, stapler

See the Additional Resources section for links to sample forms.

What needs to happen for the polls to officially open?

At the time the polls are to open, an election worker announces: "The polls are now open" and displays the empty ballot box to everyone in the polling place to prove it is empty and then seals it closed. The ballot box is not opened again until the polls are closed and the election worker are ready to start counting the votes.

Is there help available to assist voters with special needs?

At times, a voter may need help in voting. Help should be available in the following instances:

  • Special needs: Sometimes a voter is not able to get to the polling place on election day. If this is the case, the voter can send a personal representative before or on election day to get a ballot for the voter. See the LOGON web page Preparing for a General Municipal Election.
  • Visually impaired voters: If a voter is not able to read the ballot, the voter may request assistance from the election worker or from a person of the voter's choice (the voter can choose up to two people for assistance). If someone other than an election worker assists the voter, that person must state upon oath before the election worker that they will not tell anyone how the voter voted.
  • Translating services: Ballots are generally printed in English. At times, a voter may request assistance in translating a ballot to another language. Translating assistance is given in the same manner as assistance to a visually impaired voter.

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What happens if someone who requested an absentee ballot wants to vote in person on election day?

Occasionally, someone who requested an absentee ballot decides they want to vote at the polls instead. When this happens, the election worker will spot the absentee ballot notation on the up-to-date Master Voter Registration List. If the individual is on the Master Voter Registration list but the list indicates that he or she received an absentee ballot, the person must first give back the absentee ballot before they can receive a regular ballot at the polling place or, if they don't have the absentee ballot to give back, they must vote a questioned ballot.

Is an election held if no one files to run for elected office?

Yes. Conducting regular elections is one of the primary duties of a municipality and the election must be held whether there are declared candidates or not. Instead of writing in candidate names on the ballot, the ballot should be prepared with lines so voters can write-in the name of the person they are casting their vote for. Under AS 29.60.290, a municipality must conduct a regular election within the preceding fiscal year to qualify for state Community Revenue Sharing funds.

Can election officials all be registered to one political party?

Municipal elections are non-partisan. AS 29.06.320(1)(E) states that a home rule charter must include nonpartisan government. Title 29 does not specify the same requirement for general law communities, however, the qualifications to run for municipal office have no requirement other than being qualified to vote and living in a designated area. (AS 29.20.140)

How are voting rights lost and restored?

The Alaska Constitution (Article V, Section 2) and AS 15.05.030 specify that a person convicted of a crime that constitutes a felony involving moral turpitude may not vote in a state, federal, or municipal election from the date of conviction through the date of unconditional discharge (completion of time served, parole, and/or probation). The person must show proof of the unconditional discharge from custody when registering to vote. "Moral turpitude" is defined in AS 15.60.010(7).

If eligible voters in the community has voted, can the polls be closed early?

No. Your election ordinance should state the time for opening and closing the polls. The times for opening or closing polls in a municipal election held under Title 29 are not specifically addressed in state law. State conducted elections, held under Title 15 have specific time prescribed according to AS 15.15.080.

Fifteen minutes before the polls close, an election judge announces that the polls will close in 15 minutes. When the closing time arrives, an election judge announces that the polls are closed. If anyone is in line waiting to vote when the election judge announces that the polls are closed, they are allowed to vote. If someone arrives to vote after the announcement is made, they are not allowed to vote.

What happens if there has to be a runoff election?

Unless the municipality has an ordinance stating otherwise, under state law (AS 29.26.060), a runoff election must be held if no candidate receives 40% of the vote for the office of mayor or a designated seat, or if no candidate in an at large election receives greater than 40% of the total votes cast divided by the number of seats to be filled. If a runoff election is required it must be conducted within three weeks after certification of the election and notice of the election must be published for at least five days before the election date, unless otherwise provided by ordinance. The runoff election is between only the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes for the seat.

The runoff election is conducted in the same manner as the regular election except that the ballot will contain only the 2 candidates receiving the greatest number of votes for the seat and will have no provision for write-in votes.

Additional Resources Applicable Laws and Regulations

Alaska Constitution - Article V

  • Section 1 Age and 30-day residency requirement.
  • Section 2 Prohibitions against being allowed to vote.
  • Section 3 Methods of voting, secret ballot.
  • Section 4 Authorizes the legislature to prescribe registration procedures and establish voting precincts and election districts.

Alaska Administrative Code

  • 3 AAC 18.010(d)(1) Election required for Community Revenue Sharing payment.

Alaska Statutes

  • AS 04.16.070 Alcohol sales on election day.
  • AS 15.05.020 Determination of residency rules.
  • AS 15.05.030 Loss and restoration of voting rights.
  • AS 15.07.010-.200 Voter registration.
  • AS 15.10.020 Determination of precinct boundaries.
  • AS 15.15.090 Designation of polling place.
  • AS 15.60.010 Definitions (including of "moral turpitude").
  • AS 29.06.320 Charter provisions, election districts, nonpartisan municipal elections.
  • AS 29.10.200 Limitation on authority to enact provisions other than those provided by statute.
  • AS 29.20.060-.220 Assembly composition and apportionment.
  • AS 29.20.130 City council composition.
  • AS 29.20.140 Qualifications of members of governing bodies.
  • AS 29.20.150 Term of office.
  • AS 29.20.170 Vacancy in office.
  • AS 29.20.180 Filling a vacancy.
  • AS 29.20.220-.240 Election, term, and qualification for office of mayor.
  • AS 29.20.280 Vacancy in the office of mayor.
  • AS 29.20.300-.310 Election of board members.
  • AS 29.20.380 Administration of municipal elections, compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act.
  • AS 29.20.470 Election on manager plan.
  • AS 29.20.520 Repeal of manager plan.
  • AS 29.20.630 Election of state or school district employee to municipal office.
  • AS 29.26.020 Requirement for ordinance providing for nomination or declaration of candidacy procedure, prohibition on serving in more than one office.
  • AS 29.26.030 Notice of elections, requirement for 20 days notice.
  • AS 29.26.040 Election date and ordinance requirement for prescribing a different date.
  • AS 29.26.050 Voter qualifications, ordinance requirement for enacting local election district or service area restrictions.
  • AS 29.26.060 Runoff election, ordinance requirement.
  • AS 29.26.070 Election contest and appeal, ordinance requirement.
  • AS 29.26.240-.360 Recall.
  • AS 39.50.010-.200 Financial disclosure requirements for elected officials.

Updated 3/30/2021