While early reports from the Alaska Division of Elections showed “yes” votes on Ballot Measure 1 in the lead, within three hours after polls closed on Tuesday and with more than half the precincts reporting, the unofficial results pulled a switch with the “no” votes gaining ground.
As of Wednesday morning, with 435 of 441 precincts reporting, the gap favoring a “no” vote had widened with 79,980 or 52.55 percent voting “no” and 73,194 or 47.78 percent voting “yes.”
Locally, results told a different story.
Overall, House District 31 favored “yes” over “no” with a 2,689-to-2,148 vote. In Homer, Precinct No. 1 had 543 “yes” votes and 270 “no” votes and Precinct No. 2 had 369 “yes” votes and 208 “no” votes.
Eileen Becker of Homer, who opposed the ballot measure, said she would have been comfortable if the overall margin had been wider.
“It proves we’re divided,” said Becker, who blamed the close vote on a lack of understanding about the referendum that, if passed, would have repealed the state’s oil and gas tax structure established by the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 21 in 2013. “For a lot of people I talked to, there really wasn’t a good understanding of what was involved.”
Becker was critical of the state’s ballot measure pamphlet that devoted 34 pages to the subject.
“It was kind of sloppy, that whole process, and should have been boiled down to the pros and cons, but I don’t know if that could have been done. It was a many-faceted thing,” said Becker.
Jon Faulkner, another local proponent of the “no” vote, credited the sponsors of Ballot Measure 1 for raising the issue.
“I never felt they didn’t have an important case to be made or point to be heard, although I didn’t support the repeal,” he said. “I voted ‘no,’ but I think the argument was definitely one worth having. … The fact they showed as well as they did is reflective of a lot of anxiety Alaskans have.”
Faulkner criticized the complicated nature of the referendum.
“As educated as I was on the issue and knew exactly how I was going to vote, I took the time to read the actual ballot proposition when I was in the ballot booth, and the more I read it, the more confused I became,” said Faulkner. “Here’s a case when too much information was not good for voters when it came to actually casting the ballot.”
The narrow margin separating the yes and no sides of the ballot measure reflected “a lot more oil industry supportive voices were wrong on this issue,” said Faulkner. “They were predicting, and I’ll include myself among them, a wider margin of victory.”
For Larry Smith, who helped organize a “vote yes” rally in Homer in June, the narrow margin separating “no” and “yes” votes “will cause some thoughtful review on the part of people pushing the industry agenda. They spent, depending on who you listen to, between $13 and $18 million and this is what they got?”
Smith characterized the results on Ballot Measure 1 as a “cautionary note for Gov. Parnell’s campaign. There are a lot of people that didn’t vote with the governor on this one. That’s a serious issue for him to address.”
All in all, Smith said the vote “marks a turning point in the relationship between big oil and the citizens of the state. … The industry is trying many different ways to get popular support and this time it cost them a lot more money than it ever did before. Hopefully it’s a lesson to them.”
Looking to the future, Frank Mullen, who also organized the “vote yes” rally in Homer, said, “If Alaskans wake up and elect a Legislature that isn’t so much supporting the ‘oiligarchy,’ then at anytime the Legislature could come back and tinker with the tax structure yet again, but as long as Alaskans are happy being subservient to the ‘oiligarchy,’ they have chosen. The voters have spoken. Rather than being an ‘owner state,’ we’re an ‘owned state.’”
Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, campaigned for passage of Ballot Measure 1. Like others, he considered it a “confusing issue. It’s not black or white. It’s how good or how bad is good or bad enough, which is a much more difficult question, especially on something that is so detailed as tax rates and all these credits and different pieces of the bill.”
Of the multitude of ads opposing the referendum, Seaton said he thought the combined voices of former Gov. Tony Knowles and Sen. Lisa Murkowski and ads featuring Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre were effective in carrying a “vote no” and “trust us” message.
As for what will happen next with regard to how the state taxes the oil and gas industry, Seaton said the next Legislature may consider points raised by the “vote yes” people and “may make some modifications.”
The ballot measure’s complicated title was “an act relating to the oil and gas production, tax interest rates on overdue taxes and tax credits.” Small wonder when Bill Walker, independent gubernatorial candidate, was in Homer in July, he said if a vote had been held then, “‘I don’t understand’ would win by a landslide.”
Senate Bill 21 was brought to the Legislature by Gov. Sean Parnell. He said it was a way to increase oil production and investment dollars in Alaska’s oil industry.