Anchorage elections officials say this year's vote-by-mail election, the muni's first, now represents the highest-ever turnout in local history.

The office of Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones says so far, 78,602 ballots have been received. That total is higher than any turnout figures dating back to the municipality's founding in 1975, including the 71,099 people who voted in 2012’s election.

The number of ballots received from Anchorage's roughly 218,000 registered voters was already well ahead of turnout in Anchorage’s last mayoral election, conducted at traditional polling places in 2015.

Initial returns Tuesday night showed voters poised to retain Mayor Ethan Berkowitz for a second term of office and approve the $1 billion sale of muni-owned Municipal Light & Power to Chugach Electric. All of the muni’s bond propositions were on track to pass, but “bathroom bill” Prop 1 was headed for a narrow defeat.

Muni elections spokeswoman Carolyn Hall said Wednesday morning about 20 people were verifying voter signatures on ballot envelopes and removing ballots from envelopes at the Ship Creek election center.

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Some 66,452 ballots had been received by 5 p.m. Tuesday -- 15,946 more than the 50,506 initially counted in Tuesday night’s preliminary election results. Wednesday afternoon's total includes all ballots left in drop boxes Tuesday, as well as those cast at the city's accessible voting centers.

“We received about 10 and a half mail trays of mailed ballots (Wednesday morning); that’s about 3,000-plus mailed ballots,” Hall said.

A formal update on election results and ballots received wasn’t likely to be issued until at least 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to Hall. She said workers have been counting ballots for weeks, but ballots have been getting returned at different rates over time.

“We cannot control the rate at which these envelopes are returned to us – if there’s a lull, there’s less for us to process; if there’s a spike, there’s more for us to process,” Hall said. “Other jurisdictions told us we could expect a spike at the beginning, a drop in the middle and a spike in the end, and that’s what we saw.”

The lull after ballots were initially mailed in mid-March wasn’t as severe as officials had anticipated, which Hall said was ‘a good thing.”

 “That means people were interested, people were voting and they wanted to get their ballots in to us,” Hall said.

Mailed ballots postmarked by April 3 will still be accepted until April 13.

Scott Jensen, Lauren Maxwell and John Tracy contributed information to this story.

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