A change in law approved by the Haines Borough Assembly last year effectively doubled the length of the municipal election season. Local politicians are divided on the merits of the change, which extends the duration of a campaign for assembly or school board to at least two months.
The change – requested by borough clerk Julie Cozzi – was included in a broader ordinance that clarified residency requirements for candidates and delineated how write-in ballots would be counted.
Those changes were aimed at remedying sections of code identified as contributing to court challenges of the past two municipal elections. The change that lengthened the campaign season was more administrative in nature.
Cozzi said she sought the extra time to allow for challenges of candidacy requirements, which under the new law are heard before elections. The change also leaves more time for voters to return absentee-by-mail ballots.
"It’s a lot of work preparing the packets for absentee-by-mail ballots. The ballots will get here sooner, which allows us to send them out earlier, so people have a chance to get their ballots and get them back to us. A lot of people vote that way, and it’s very important to them. It’s all about the voter," Cozzi said this week.
Last year’s candidate filing period was Aug. 2-24, in line with a schedule that had been used for decades. The filing period this year was July 11-29. Municipal elections are held the first Tuesday of October.
"I feel good about it," Cozzi said. "It also gives more time for people to run a write-in campaign, if they don’t like what they’re hearing from candidates. It’s more time for groups to have candidates come in and talk with them and more time for people to discuss issues with candidates."
Mayoral candidates Jan Hill and Stephanie Scott this week agreed with Cozzi. Incumbent Hill said, "It will give an opportunity for candidates to have more one-on-one time with groups in the community, and maybe allow time to schedule more forums and participation. The better informed the voters are, the better decisions they can make."
Challenger Scott, a former assemblywoman, already has started a campaign blog and Facebook page. Scott said she wants to "raise points" with her campaign and she has strong objectives she’s looking forward to discussing with voters.
"I’m in it for the process. This allows more time to have the conversation with the voters. It’s great. It gives people time to figure out ways to (interact) with candidates. I’m not sure how to manage the (longer season.) Right now, private individuals have been gathering."
Veteran assembly member Jerry Lapp said he hadn’t thought of an extended campaign season when he voted for the new election law. He said he didn’t have a strong opinion on the change and that even with the extra month, he probably wouldn’t start campaigning until the end of August. "I did think of putting some posters out at the fair, then I thought, ‘Geez, that would be a little bit early.’"
Assemblyman Steve Vick is one who dislikes the longer campaign season. "I thought it was long enough as it was. It’s a lot of information for the town to absorb, and it can be overwhelming for the candidates and the public."
Former borough Mayor Fred Shields is also a critic of the change. "It’s better when it’s a one-month campaign. It’s a small town and prolonged elections don’t serve anybody. They take up too much time, and they take too much of the candidates’ money and the borough is distracted. One event in 100 years and we change the code?"