Anchorage is making the transition to vote by mail elections. This is an exciting advancement for our local Anchorage elections. The Municipal Clerk's office would like to share how we got here and how it will all work.
Anchorage began exploring alternative voting options in 2014 at the direction of Ernie Hall, former chair of the Anchorage Assembly Ethics and Election Committee. Hall had three concerns with municipal elections.
First, low voter turnout: Voter participation in the last five years shows 24 percent of registered voters engaged in the municipal election process. Voter turnout has ranged from 20.15 percent to 35.82 percent in the last 5 years.
In contrast, absentee by mail voting has increased significantly — by 276.4 percent.
A second concern is the inefficient use of community resources. For each municipal election, the clerk's office sets up 122 polling locations from Peters Creek to Girdwood; these locations are supplied with everything: Voting booths, ballots, posters, pens and paper clips.
There is a tremendous amount of resources and energy that goes into supplying and providing equipment to polling locations, especially given our low voter turnout.
The third concern is the challenges associated with recruiting, training and retaining election workers. The Municipality of Anchorage hires over 600 election workers to process voters on Election Day.
These one-day workers are tasked with the incredible job of helping our residents execute their fundamental right as citizens to vote.
Each year we lose workers to retirement, exhaustion from the full day of work, or the allure of the Lower 48 during breakup. It has been difficult to find and engage new workers to staff poll-based elections.
Under the direction of Hall, the clerk's office and a stakeholders group began to explore alternative voting options and quickly agreed that vote-by-mail jurisdictions addressed the three concerns.
The stakeholders group provided community input and engagement and grew to include about 50 Anchorage citizens. The stakeholders have worked with the clerk's office since July 2015 to examine vote by mail in other jurisdictions, to collaborate on potential election challenges and to identify how the transition could impact various groups in the local community.
Hall sponsored a Assembly resolution, which passed unanimously, directing the clerk to continue to explore vote by mail, with an ambitious go-live date of April 2017.
In consultation with an executive steering committee, the clerk's office hired Resource Data Inc. and tapped Dennis Wheeler to manage the vote by mail project. Dennis and the project team identified needs for secure space, envelope sorting equipment, high-speed ballot scanners, as well as contracting for ballot creation and mailing.
Through 2016, the team successfully secured space and completed the three request for proposals, but not in time to go-live for the 2017 election.
The regular municipal election scheduled for April 3, 2018, will be the first election vote by mail in the Anchorage jurisdiction.
As to how it works, the clerk's office looks forward to educating voters on this new process. All qualified registered voters in the municipality will receive a ballot at their mailing addresses.
Using trusted resources, voters will have the opportunity to study the issues on the ballot. The vote by mail process is as easy as 1-2-3:
1. Vote your ballot, filling in the ovals completely, place it in the security envelope, then place both into the ballot return envelope.
2. Sign the declaration on the back of the ballot return envelope.
3. Return your ballot with a first class stamp through the U.S. Postal Service or save postage and return it to an accessible vote center, or a secure drop box.
There will be 12 secure drop boxes set up across the municipality, so most residents live within 5 miles of a drop box. If voters return ballots well in advance of Election Day, their votes will be reported with official results at 8:00 p.m. that day.
Want more information about vote by mail? See the FAQ on our website: muni.org/votebymail; or contact the clerk's office at 243-VOTE (8683).
Barbara Jones is the municipal clerk for Anchorage, in charge of elections.
The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com.