Alaska sees more absentee ballots, fewer polling places, due to COVID-19

The Division of Elections announced several closures Monday night.
Absentee ballots can be mailed or dropped off at secure drop boxes outside Division of...
Absentee ballots can be mailed or dropped off at secure drop boxes outside Division of Elections Offices.
Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 8:52 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The state Division of Elections sent out a massive number of absentee ballots this year.

“This year we sent out 53,970 mail ballots,” said Division of Elections Public Relations Manager Tiffany Montemayor. She compared that to the 8,715 sent out during the 2016 state primary.

With all of those ballots coming in from around the state, DOE Director Gail Fenumiai said the division has hired extra staff to help process them, but they’re mostly sticking with the same system they’ve used to keep ballots secure.

“The ballots come into the regional offices and they’re secured there,” Fenumiai said. “They’re date stamped and batched by date received, they’re stored in a secure room that’s locked and alarmed.”

She added that they're also going back to a policy from 2016 where they count absentee ballots after election night to ensure nobody votes twice, but as long as ballots are postmarked by election day, they should be counted.

Absentee ballots can be mailed or taken directly to the Division of Elections by dropping them off in a secure ballot drop box outside division offices.

As for the overall security of Alaska’s elections, Fenumiai was confident in the division.

“There has not been any voter fraud of a large scale to think of, as far as voting goes, for the 20-plus years I’ve been working for the division,” she said.

And as for the United States Postal Service, which will handle many of the absentee ballots before they get to the division, she was similarly confident in their security.

“We haven’t seen anything to the contrary,” she said.

But reliable mail service and division offices aren't available in all of Alaska, which is why the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska supports the state's hybrid system.

“Voting in-person needs to be accessible too, and here we’ve seen problems across the state where there is a shortage of poll workers,” Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, said. “There’s a real shortage of personal protective equipment.”

And that shortage is impacting the primary. On Monday night the Division of Elections announced several polling locations wouldn't be able to open Tuesday due to concerns about COVID-19. Residents of these communities will need to vote absentee at the following locations.

  • Arctic Village - Arctic Village Council Office.
  • Port Lions - Port Lions Clerk’s Office, 207 Spruce Drive.
  • Kake - Kake City Hall, 3rd Avenue
  • Takotna - Takotna Traditional Council Office.
  • Cold Bay - No location listed. Fenumiai wrote over email that “the Absentee Voting Official said she was contacting all the voters in Cold Bay and voted everyone who wanted to do so before she had to leave town.”
  • Nunam Iqua - The Tribal Office

Absentee ballots will start to be counted on the 25th, and Fenumiai said the target date to get results certified is the 30th.

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