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Local Government Resource Desk


Preparing for An Election


State law AS 29.20.380 provides that the municipal clerk shall “administer all municipal elections.” The clerk acts as the supervisor of elections and organizes and runs the election. In Alaska, most municipal elections take place once a year on the first Tuesday in October; however, municipal elections do not necessarily need to be on this day and some municipalities have a different day established by ordinance.

The Alaska Constitution and state statutes allow local governments a great deal of flexibility in how they conduct their elections. State law does, however, require that a governing body prescribe rules for conducting an election (see AS 29.26.010). To conduct a successful election, the clerk should be aware of specific duties regarding the election as prescribed by your local ordinances, Alaska Statutes Title 29 (Municipal Government) and Title 15 (Elections).

For information on what to do during the election and what happens after the election or for special elections topics, see the other LOGON pages 'Conducting an Election', 'Certifying Election Results', or the special election topic you are interested in.


Municipal clerks have a lot to do to ensure a well-run election and should begin preparing for the election months ahead of time to prevent problems. An election calendar is a very useful tool as election preparations occur. The sample election calendar provided below can, and should, be modified according to local municipal code. The tasks identified on the calendar are more detailed than this website provides and you are encouraged to download the Excel Sample Election Calendar and the Plain English Guide to Elections, found in the Additional Resources section below, for more specific information. It is recommended to begin preparations 90 days before an election; for an October election, that would mean starting the process in early July. While that may seem too early, new clerks and election workers have come to appreciate the extra time this time line advises.

The clerk is responsible for: obtaining the master voter registration lists from the Division of Elections; reviewing candidate eligibility; preparing and printing the election ballots, absentee voter documents, and personal representative documents; preparing and posting the election notices; administering absentee voting; appointing and training election judges; and preparing the polling place.

Your municipality should have an elections ordinance that establishes the basic guidelines for holding local elections. The elections ordinance usually establishes: candidates qualifications; voter qualifications; duties of the clerk, election workers, and canvass board; nomination procedures for candidates; requirements for notice of elections, election equipment, and ballots; election procedures; absentee voting procedures; procedures for compiling election results and certifying elections; procedures for contesting elections; and any other rules and procedures regarding local elections. A Sample Election Code is available to download for use to compare and contrast to your current code.

When a person submits a nominating petition or a declaration of candidacy, the clerk reviews the document for accuracy and completeness. Under AS 39.50.020, a candidate for municipal office must file a financial disclosure statement when they file for office, unless the municipality has exempted itself from the financial disclosure requirement. Contact the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) at 1-800-478-4176 if you are not sure if this is required in your municipality. Information is also available under additional resources below:

The clerk should then check the voter registration list and local code of ordinances to find out if the candidate meets the qualifications to hold office. If any problems are identified during this review and/or additional information is required, the clerk should send a letter to the candidate explaining what is needed. A sample Candidacy Acceptance or Rejection letter requesting additional information is available in the Additional Resources section below.

Any person is eligible to run for elected office who: is registered to vote in state elections at a residence address in the borough or city at least 30 days before the election; has been a resident of the municipality for 30 days immediately preceding the election; and is not disqualified under Article V of the State Constitution or AS 29.26.050.

Under AS 29.20.140, a municipality may adopt an ordinance providing term limits or residency requirements for members of its governing body. Though this hasn't been spelled out in statute, an Alaska Supreme Court decision held that the three-year residency requirement authorized in this statute was excessive [Peloza v Freas (871 P.2d 687 (Alaska 1994)]. As a result of this court decision, the residency standard is now one year. There are no term limits or limitations on the number of consecutive terms allowed unless an ordinance that imposes such limits has been adopted and ratified by the voters of the municipality.

State law (AS 29.26.030) requires that a municipality give at least 20 days notice for an election. Some municipalities require longer notice. Check your ordinances to ensure proper notice. Your election ordinance should also describe the information that needs to be included in the notice. At a minimum, the election notice should state:

  • whether the election is a general, special, or runoff election;
  • the date of the election;
  • the location of the polling place(s);
  • time the polling place(s) will open and close;
  • offices to be filled;
  • a statement describing voter qualifications;
  • a statement describing absentee voting procedure;
  • the time for filing any declarations of candidacy and nominating petitions; and
  • a statement of any questions or propositions to be placed on the ballot.

Though not required by statute, it is a good idea to complete an affidavit of posting documenting the time and place the notice was posted. This will provide proof of proper notice in case it becomes an issue later on. The affidavit should be signed by one witness and attested by the city clerk. A sample Affidavit of Posting Election Notice can be found in the Additional Resources.

The municipal clerk is responsible for creating the ballot according to the time line, paying close attention to the last days that a candidate can file for office. Some local laws establish a specific format or particular way candidate’s names are to be printed. A sample ballot should be created and proof read multiple times over the course of a few days, two neat tricks to catch errors are to read it aloud and read it from bottom to top.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there help available for conducting elections?

Yes. If your local election ordinance, the 'Plain English Guide to Elections', 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.

Can a person run for or hold more than one elective office at the same time?

A person may be nominated or declare candidacy for and occupy more than one office, except a borough mayor may not also serve as a member of the assembly, nor may a mayor of a first class city serve as a council member. (AS 29.26.020(b)) Serving as mayor or council member while serving on the school board or a local advisory board are examples of occupying more than one office.

How do you know which elected offices need to be filled?

Alaska law (AS 29.20.150) provides for a term of three years for members of a governing body, unless an ordinance is adopted for a different term not to exceed four years. The mayor's term in a first class city is also limited to three years unless a local ordinance extends it to four years (AS 29.20.230). Most municipalities have chosen three-year terms that are staggered to prevent all seats on a governing body from becoming vacant at the same time. This information is usually contained in the section of the ordinance addressing the rules for governing bodies, not in the election ordinance. Each seat on a governing body must be subject to re-election when the term for that seat has been completed, or if an appointment occurred to fill a vacancy.

What special rules apply when someone is appointed to a vacant seat?

If a member of the governing body was appointed to fill a vacancy, the appointed member serves only until the next regular election (see AS 29.20.180-.280). The appointed seat is then placed on the ballot and the term for the seat is whatever time was remaining for the person initially elected to that seat. In other words, the election is to fill the seat only for the unexpired seat example if person is appointed in middle three-year term, that seat come up election at end second term would one year remaining term.

Who determines what goes on the ballot?

The municipal clerk or other election official is responsible for preparing all official ballots using the procedure spelled out in local ordinance and information from candidate nomination petitions, declarations of candidacy, certified initiative petitions, certified referendum petitions, or propositions adopted by the governing body.

The governing body may place other questions on the ballot. When the governing body wants a question placed on the ballot, the members direct the clerk to do so in one of three ways: by passing a motion, by adopting a resolution, or by adopting an ordinance. Your local ordinances or state statute will determine which method is used.

The results of questions placed on the ballot through a referendum petition or initiative petition are binding if the question passes. When preparing the ballot it is important to remember to provide enough instruction on the ballot to ensure the voter can fill out the ballot correctly and the vote can be counted. As an example, spoiled ballot instructions and the requirement for marking the box next to a write-in candidate should be stressed.

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, prepare the ballot with lines so voters can write-in the name of the person they are casting their vote for. Under state law (AS 29.60.290) a municipality must conduct a regular election within the prior fiscal year to qualify for Community Assistance Payments.

Where does the voter registration list come from?

The State's Division of Elections maintains the voter registration lists and will provide copies to a municipality upon request. This list is a requirement for verifying voter eligibility on election day. You should request two separate lists - one to verify candidate eligibility and one to verify voter eligibility. A good rule of thumb is to request a voter registration list 45 days prior to an election to confirm whether a candidate is eligible to run for office, and a second list 30 days prior to the election. The second list is used to confirm whether a person is eligible to vote. The Division of Elections is very good about automatically sending the municipality a voter list for regularly scheduled elections, but the division will not know about any special elections and it will be the municipality’s responsibility to contact them.

How do residents register to vote?

A person may register to vote on a form provided by Division of Elections on its website, and submit it in person, by mail or by fax. The form can also be completed in person before a registration official or through a voter registration agency, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).

You may request an application by mail from a Division of Elections Office or get a Voter Registration Application from the Division of Elections. A person may also use a Voter Registration Application to show a name change, address change, or party membership change, per AS 15.07.010-.200.

How is residency determined?

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. The Division of Elections determines a voter's residency under the rules outlined in AS 15.05.020. Contact the Division of Elections if there are questions about residency.

How are the polling places and the boundaries for precincts decided?

Only the Division of Elections can decide or change precinct boundaries and polling places within the boundary (see 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, choose another site with the best possible public access and notify the Division of Elections immediately.

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 15.80.010(10).What steps need to be taken before the election for absentee voting?

A person may request an absentee ballot either in person, by mail, or by personal representative. Municipal timelines for requesting absentee ballots will differ so check your election ordinance to find out the time frame for your municipality. If your ordinance does not have this information, consider amending your ordinance to include it. The Sample Election Ordinance contains appropriate language. Your election ordinance should describe the procedure for voting an absentee ballot. At a minimum the process should involve:

  • an absentee ballot application and application procedure;
  • ballot preparation instructions;
  • ballot envelope and affidavit preparation instruction;
  • tracking procedure; and
  • counting procedure.

The following materials are usually used to conduct absentee ballot voting:

  • Absentee voting by-mail ballot application.
  • Absentee voting by-mail ballot return envelope.
  • Absentee voting in-person oath and affidavit
    (can be printed on the outside of the absentee voting in-person ballot envelope).
  • Absentee voting in-person ballot envelope.
  • Plain envelopes or secrecy folders.
  • Absentee voting in-person registers.

How does absentee voting occur in person?

A person may vote early and cast an absentee ballot in person at the municipality's office. The municipality's election ordinance should describe the procedure for obtaining and voting an absentee ballot in person.

  • To vote absentee in person, the voter does not need to complete an application. However, the voter completes the "absentee ballot oath and affidavit envelope" in front of a voting official (usually the city clerk). The voting official checks identification and witnesses the voter's signature. The voting official also completes the rest of the "affidavit envelope." If no voting official or other official authorized to attest an affidavit is available, a witness may sign.
  • The voter signs the Master Voter Registration List. A note is included on the Master Voter Registration List that the person voted absentee in person. This note is highlighted (using a bright colored highlighting pen works well). The voting official gives the voter the ballot and a plain white "secrecy envelope."
  • If the Master Voter Registration List is not available, keep a list of absentee ballot voter names. (Note: Anyone wanting to vote must be allowed to. Local election officials are not authorized to deny a person the right to vote, per AS 15.07.010.)
  • The voter votes the ballot and puts it in the secrecy envelope, then the clerk ensures that the voter places the secrecy envelope with ballot in the "affidavit envelope" and seals it.
  • The voting official stores the ballot in a secure place until the day after the election.

How does absentee voting occur by mail?

A voter may request an absentee ballot by mail. The municipality's election ordinance should describe the procedure for obtaining and voting an absentee ballot by mail.

  • To vote absentee by mail, a voter must request the absentee packet in writing. When a voting official (usually the city clerk) receives the written request, an "absentee voter application" is given or mailed to the voter.
  • The voter completes the application and returns it to the voting official. A ballot, a plain white secrecy envelope and an "absentee ballot oath and affidavit envelope" are issued to or mailed to the voter.
  • A note is included on the Master Voter Registration List that the person voted absentee by mail. This note is highlighted (using a bright colored highlighting pen works well).
  • If the Master Voter Registration List is not available, keep a log of absentee ballot voter names. (Note: Anyone wanting to vote must be allowed to. Local election officials are not authorized to deny a person the right to vote, per AS 15.07.010.)
  • The voter completes the ballot, puts it in the secrecy envelope, then seals it in the "affidavit envelope." The "affidavit envelope" is signed by the voter and possibly a witness. The "affidavit envelope" may also serve as a mailing envelope to the city.
  • When the voted ballot is received, the city clerk stores it in a secure place. The ballot must be postmarked by election day.

How does absentee voting occur by personal representative?

A person may use a personal representative to obtain an absentee ballot. A personal representative physically carries the application and absentee ballot from the polling place to the voter, then back to the ballot box.

  • A personal representative applies at the municipality's office or polling place on behalf of the voter. A "special needs ballot envelope" is issued to the personal representative to deliver to the voter.
  • The voter and personal representative complete the "special needs ballot envelope" and it is returned to the voting official (usually the municipal clerk).
  • The voting official completes the "special needs ballot envelope" and provides a ballot and a plain white secrecy envelope to the personal representative, along with the "special needs envelope."
  • A note is made on the Master Voter Registration List that the person voted absentee by a personal representative. This note is highlighted (using a bright colored highlighting pen works well).
  • If the voter is not on the Master Voter Registration List, a note is made that the voter received a "special needs ballot envelope."
  • The personal representative delivers the ballot and envelopes to the voter. The voter places their completed ballot into the secrecy envelope, which in turn is placed in the "special needs ballot envelope."

The personal representative then returns the envelope to the voting official who then completes the information on the envelope and places it in the ballot box.

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 7/29/2020