Early voting is underway in the Anchorage city election -- including a new drop box for absentee ballots that may signal the future of local elections.

Early and absentee in-person voting stations opened Monday in the Wilda Marston Theatre at the Loussac Library and at City Hall. A station at the Chugiak Senior Center will open next Monday.

On Tuesday afternoon, the city clerk's office announced that a secure drop box had been placed at the Fairview Recreation Center to accept vote-by-mail ballots. The drop box will open Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. and stay open until 8 p.m. on April 5, Election Day, officials said. Voters can put absentee by-mail ballots into the drop box any time of the day. It's like a letter box, but voters won't have to use a stamp.

Assembly approves vote-by-mail for future elections

In a 9-2 vote late Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly approved an ordinance that directs future city elections to be mainly conducted as vote-by-mail contests.

The change would mean that starting in the 2017 election, unless otherwise decided by the Assembly, the city would offer a few accessible voting centers in place of the current 122 precincts, Moser said. Voters can return ballots by mailing them to the city with a first-class stamp, leaving them at one of the voting locations or putting them in a drop box.

Elections officials have cited high voting numbers elsewhere in the country where mail balloting takes place to justify the switch.

Assemblyman Bill Evans voted against the switch Tuesday night, saying he didn't think making voting easier necessarily made for a better democracy.

"What I would like to see is more people voting who are concerned about voting," Evans said.

Assemblyman Ernie Hall, the chair of the Assembly's elections committee, said the vote-by-mail format will give voters more time to familiarize themselves with the ballot. He said his committee has researched the issue for the past three years, including what he described as a low risk of fraud through a signature verification process.

"I think this is the future," Hall said.

In December, the Assembly gave the clerk's office permission to start voter education and outreach about the new system. Last month, the Assembly approved a $300,000 contract with a local consulting firm, RDI Inc., to manage the project, including buying new equipment and educating voters, Moser said.

The project manager is former city attorney Dennis Wheeler, who now works for RDI.

Voting locations open

For the current April city election, in addition to the drop box, early voters can cast absentee by-mail ballots at the Loussac Library in the Wilda Marston Theater, and at City Hall. The City Hall station will be open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Election Day; the Loussac Library location will be open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The early and absentee in-person at the Chugiak Senior Center will open next Monday and stay open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Moser said turnout was steady in Anchorage on Monday, the first day of early voting. She said 83 voters turned up at City Hall and 218 at Loussac, an increase from previous elections.