Jessica Earnshaw and Sara Peterson begin to tally votes from Precinct 1.

UPDATE, 10-6-23:

The remaining handful of absentee ballots counted Friday afternoon (10-6-23) have settled the question of which candidates will take full terms on the Sitka Assembly and Sitka School Board.

With 72 absentee ballots now counted, JJ Carlson has won a three-year term on the Sitka Assembly. Carlson joins Tim Pike, the top vote-earner on election night, who also will take a three-year term.  Prior to counting absentees, Carlson held a lead of less than 10 votes on over third-place finisher Scott Saline (suh-LEEN). Carlson has now extended that lead to 16 votes with absentee counting. Saline nevertheless will join the assembly and serve a one-year term. 

For school board, Tom Williams was the sole candidate on the ballot, easily capturing the open three-year term. Write-in candidate Phil Burdick finished election night with a small lead for second place over fellow write-in Steve Morse. Absentee counting did not change that result, and Burdick will serve a three-year term. Steve Morse will serve a two-year term. 

The Sitka Assembly will certify the 2023 municipal election results at its next meeting on Tuesday, October 10. 

Original Report 10-3-23

Voters handed high school teacher Tim Pike a full term on the Sitka Assembly, after ballots were counted on election day Tuesday. A second three-year term on the assembly will be decided by absentee counting this Friday.

Tim Pike was an incumbent, appointed earlier this year to the assembly to fill a vacant seat. In an interview with KCAW on Wednesday (10-4-23) he thanked the community for choosing him to represent them for the next three years, and for voting strongly in favor of two ballot propositions involving Sitka’s schools. 

“I look forward to working on a few things, affordability being the most important thing, I think, for our community going forward,” Pike said. “And also very proud of our community, to be part of our community that supports education as much as it does, particularly with those ballot propositions. It was truly a good and forward thinking move for our community going forward, and helping our students, and getting our buildings in line.”

Fellow incumbent JJ Carlson was also appointed to the assembly last year, and finished second to Pike – by only 127 votes (1,212 to 1,085). Carlson’s taking the second available three-year term is not assured, however. Challenger Scott Saline finished just nine votes behind Carlson, which puts him easily in range of capturing the seat when a possible 79 absentee ballots are counted on Friday.

In a message to KCAW, Saline thanked voters for giving him, “a chance to save town.” He said he plans to spend locally his $500 monthly stipend for serving on the assembly. JJ Carlson could not be reached for comment by press time. 

In any event, both Saline and Carlson will serve on the assembly beginning this fall – with the candidate winning the fewer votes taking only a one-year term.

Political newcomer Austin Cranford finished a distant fourth with just over 500 votes.

For Sitka School Board, incumbent appointee Tom Williams won a three-year term (with 1,206 votes). Williams was the only name on the ballot for three open seats on the board. For second place, it was a close race between Steve Morse and Phil Burdick, who entered as write-in candidates in September. After over 1000 write-in votes were counted by hand late Tuesday, the two were neck and neck with 425 votes for Burdick and 397 votes for Morse. After the absentee votes are counted on Friday, the top vote-getter will take a full term on the board, and the runner-up will take a two-year term. Both Morse and Burdick are retired educators, and well-known in the district.  

Incumbent Williams said he was looking forward to working with both of them. 

“Glad to see that we have a full school board now,” Williams said. “So excited to start working with our new team members and addressing some of the issues that are sitting here in front of us.”

Williams said his top priority is the budget and a full facility inventory throughout the district. Morse could not be reached for comment by press time, but Burdick told KCAW he’s looking forward to strategic planning for the district, and wants to help ensure the superintendent hiring process gets underway as soon as possible. It’s what pushed him to throw his hat in the ring as a write-in candidate shortly before the deadline. 

“The work that needs to be done is too important to get behind on, and if we didn’t have a full slate of candidates, then the process to have the board then nominate and vet and get someone on the board, by the time all that happens, you’ve lost a month or six weeks,” Burdick said. “And I really feel like the that work is so important that we didn’t have that much time to wait.”

The lower-than-usual interest in serving on the Sitka School Board in the past few years prompted ballot proposition 1, which would amend the Sitka Charter to allow municipal employees to serve on the school board. Voters passed the proposition overwhelmingly, by nearly a 4-to-1 margin (1,200 to 360).

Prop. 2 was a bit tighter: It asked voters to reinstate a one-percent seasonal sales tax to support school maintenance, repair, and construction. Voters approved the prop by a 2-to-1 margin (1014 to 566). The tax – which was in place for the last 20 years and used to pay off school bonds – will raise an estimated $2.3 million to support school infrastructure, which is entirely owned by the city.

Turnout in Sitka was consistent with the last municipal election – about 1,500 residents cast ballots this year – but several hundred below the highly-competitive general election last year, when the late Congressman Don Young’s seat was up for grabs (approx. 2,200 ballots cast).